Royksopp & Robyn - Do It Again
Release Date: May 23rd, 2014
Record Label: Interscope
Legacy recurs throughout history and culture as something to be strived for, to be attained and ensured with vigor while the opportunity exists. The paranoia of being forgotten has inspired epics both ancient and modern. As we hurtle towards the (still hypothetical) moment when we create sentience in what was once an inanimate object, our cultural artifacts ricochet off the bounds of what that actually “means” - will machines experience love or hate? The interrogation of what AI means by art has mainly focused on this sort of experience for decades, with a few mutations that remain soundly in the arena of what we expect from the form. Barring one towering exception, though, it seems difficult to think of examples of art seeking to delineate what machines will want to leave as a legacy after their time. Its a fascinating question that skirts around the edges of mortality, a tried and true subject, in favor of the abstract concept which comes after. Robyn and Royksopp have made a tentative foray into the topic on their first collaborative “mini”-LP, Do It Again.
Tackling this is no easy task and the trios attempt depends heavily on the perception of Robyn as a self-declared “Fembot.” Opening the record with “Monument,” which dramatically departs from the gooey dance-pop of their previous song collaborations into the looping hum of The Field, sets the stage. Robyn’s singing almost sounds like it was cobbled together from the presets recorded by an actual human; they’re complete thoughts and sentiments but they remain confined both by language and the aural environment they exist in. The most major shift in the loop is when the “hook” is converted into an understated sax line that continues to evolve and change within the loop before simply fading out of mind. Robyn returns briefly, but the gradual degradation from blunt expression to instrumental to nothingness speaks volumes. Meta though it may be to mark your music as your monument, within the song itself there seems to be little hope for leaving a permanent mark on an environment which holds no regard for you and continues on its slight, gradual shift to something entirely different from what you knew.
Burdened as she is by the looming inevitability of being forgotten, Robyn flies to the same lecherous escapism that many do. “Sayit” ups the ante on the whole “android feeling” conceit, as a throbbing dance rhythm is conjoined to goofy spurts of garbled masculinity for a brief coping mechanism: “pleasure machine/fuck mechanic.” Yet as fun as whatever this “sex” is for Robyn and her partner, its decidedly less so for the listener. Its bounce and cheekiness is reminiscent of human sexuality, but its the only song on Do It Again that fails to impart a sense that there’s a modicum of even an artificial humanity within the characters. It isn’t an explicit failure, but it clearly marks the limits of this sort of approach to exploring emotion, a single line between genuine feeling and automated responses that remains crystalline rather than blurred. The title track splashes and ripples with an energy so propulsive from its opening salvo that its deft aversion to actually portraying the moment of ecstasy comes as its own full bodied satisfaction. Its entirely dedicated to praising “the anticipation, mmmMMMmmm,” and the only vestige of Robyn’s jerky automaton vocals is the commanding tone demanding - or imploring for - more. On the soft plea for recognition “Every Little Thing,” Robyn harmonizes with the other fractious pieces of AI that comprise her sentience over a convincing dalliance in IDIB balladry.
Tthe closing “Inside the Idle Hour Club” is a ten minute instrumental jewel that reminds us Do It Again began with Robyn desperate for a lasting monument to her existence. The erratic careening in the interim seems to have left her search fruitless on the surface, but the desire to replay the whole might just mean that she succeeded. After all, she found meaning in her short time on Do It Again’s plane of existence through constant repetition of desire and pleasure - why can’t the same happen after she’s technically “gone” by restarting the record? For a record that trades heavily in production experiments foreign to both parties, Royksopp and Robyn by and large succeed at creating what they set out to - a monument.