Friday, March 19, 2010

March 19: Röyksopp, "Sparks"

Artist: Röyksopp
Song: "Sparks"
Album: Melody A.M.
Year: 2001

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It has been proven time and time again that without question, one of the most difficult genres in which one can succeed is that of the host of sub-genres that fall under the title “electronic music.”  From techno and house to ambient and drone, the fact that “anyone with a computer” can create music of this style leads to there being far more sub-standard representations of this style of music than that of any other musical form.  However, this same ability for “anyone” to create also works in a positive way, in that it yields some of the most unique sounds and approaches due to being able to so tightly manipulate the composition.  Yet even with all of these truths, for whatever reason, a majority of the finest representations of all of the electronic styles come from northern Europe and Scandinavia, where it seems that as the climate gets colder, the ability to create warm, mind-bending sonic textures increases proportionately.  From Björk to Zero7, it is hard to argue that the finest acts of the various down-tempo genres come this this part of the world, and in that group, one simply cannot ignore the presence of the Norwegian duo known as Röyksopp.  With an ability to execute styles across the spectrum, their debut record, 2001’s Melody A.M. remains a mainstay of the genre nearly a decade after it was first released.  From almost haunting textures to some of the most beautiful, yet minimalist forays into the trip-hop/ambient sub-genre, Melody A.M. is a true musical masterpiece, and the duo are rarely as focused and awe-inspiring as on the gorgeous track, “Sparks.”

Though “Sparks” was the fifth and final single off of Melody A.M., the general public had not yet forgotten the beauty behind the record, and it found moderate chart success in the U.K, and would later be named the greatest Norwegian album of the decade.  Musically, the song is pure “chill-out” bliss, as the soft textures deployed by Torbørn Brundtland and Svein Berge instantly set them far above the cavalcade of electronic acts that filled the genre in the early years of the “oughts.”  With an opening that almost sounds like a vinyl record beginning, it sets a perfect stage for a sound and mood that simply defies description.  This goes further, as the overall sound of “Sparks” almost feels like a throwback to the 1970’s, as the warm, relaxed tone of the song begs for smoke-filled rooms with shag carpeting.  The synthesizer melody that squeaks and flows throughout the song is a sound like nothing else ever recorded, and while on its own, it would be far too harsh a sound, somehow Röyksopp makes it fit perfectly with their musical vision.  With a slow, steady rhythm instantly inducing head-bobbing, “Sparks” is unquestionably one of the most hypnotizing tracks in the history of the down-tempo style, and the way in which the duo intertwine their delicate sonic subtleties into this rhythm serves as a testament to their true musical genius.  Further displaying their talents, Röyksopp add in one of the funkiest basslines in the history of the genre, and this fantastic groove is yet another aspect that sets “Sparks” far apart as a “classic” track.

The music on “Sparks” alone would have made it a classic of the ambient genre, and yet Röyksopp ups the ante even further by adding in the stunning voice of Anneli Drecker.  Though she had already been recording with “dream-pop” veterans Bel Canto for more than two decades, her appearance here on “Sparks” stands as one of her finest performances.  With a voice that is just as smooth and captivating, if not moreso, as the music, Drecker gently rocks the listener, into a mesmerizing, almost ethereal state of mind.  Röyksopp have also put a slight distortion on her voice, and it manages to make her sound even more fused together with the overall sound, as the gloss that it gains perfectly completes the overall mood.  The final piece to this overwhelming beauty is the lyrics, penned by Drecker.  Though somewhat simple, they are a wonderfully crafted ode to the way in which “the small things” in life can turn a day around.  Making the song universal, she sings, “…it's those tiny little sparks, daily life that makes me, forget my wounded heart…,” and this almost melancholy mood that is set makes the song a true masterwork.  Her deep feelings of lost love are pushed further when Drecker sings, “…but you will always be here, stored inside my mind…” and one can feel both the beauty and the pain within both the lyrics, as well as the soulful, honest way in which they are delivered.

Achieving an entire song that, in every aspect, defines the term “beautiful” is a nearly impossible task, as there is always some small part of the song that must be “forgiven.”  Yet on their debut record, the Norwegian electronic duo known as Röyksopp make it look almost easy with their sensational single, “Sparks.”  Rooted by one of the most bewitching sonic landscapes ever put together, the song instantly pulls the listener into this delicate, yet vast space and it remains one of the greatest “chill-out” tracks ever composed.  The addition of the vocal presence of Anneli Drecker truly pushes the song over the edge, and one can search the entire history of the ambient sub-genre, and you’ll simply never find another track that quite measures up to the overall impact of “Sparks.”  While the song was somewhat lost behind the previous singles, coming out nearly two full years after the album first hit the streets, “Sparks” is easily the highlight of the album that took home its fair share of awards and accolades.  Nowhere else on Melody A.M. does Röyksopp craft such a perfect, yet almost minimalist mood, and it in many ways defines what it means to “be ambient.”  The warmth of “Sparks” is like no other song ever recorded, and it can instantly be felt by the listener, and yet this warmth continues to exist at the same power even after repeated listenings.  The blissful sonic textures that result in a fantastically warm mood, all capped off by the stunning vocal work of Anneli Drecker create the recipe for ambient perfection, and that is why more than a decade after its release, “Sparks” remains unrivaled and a true classic of the entire electronic genre.

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