The Understanding (Astralwerks)

Fantastic Four
Royksopp's debut disc, Melody A.M. , produced mood-setting mix-tape fodder and soundtracked any room at a rave that came with a couch. The Understanding starts in the same vein, with parochial piano and a gentle percussive pulse, but then it turns the beat around, disco-style.

Like party-planning professionals, Royksopp created a checklist of celebration essentials. Bop-gun bloops, vocoder murmurs, quick-click drums, hand claps, an awestruck-choir effect, synthesizer swells, a sampled dude yelling "yeah" -- all these elements appear during its uptempo numbers. The Norwegian duo enhances its own airy vocals with supplementary singers: Chelonis R. Jones adds R&B flava, Kate Havnevik wails in dance-diva fashion, and Karin Dreijer describes "flashlights and explosions" in a wide-eyed warble.

The record's centerpiece -- or nadir, depending on the listener's tolerance for epic excess -- is the eight-minute "Alpha Male," which sprawls like a '70s prog suite, right down to the flute solo. Opening with an ambient yawn and keyboard-generated horn fanfare, the song evolves into a techno thumper with an elastic "Humpty Dance" bassline, then fades back into hibernation mode. It plays like a single-song career study, merging the group's somnolent origins with its groove-driven present, and the stark contrast flatters the latter. Royksopp's chill-out approach had its charms, but its fast-paced material is a lot more fun.

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