‘A Higher Place’ by Röyksopp, 2001, from the album Melody A.M.
Röyksopp had two big hits from their debut album Melody A.M, ‘Eple’ and ‘So Easy’, both of which appeared on almost every chillout compilation album for the next few years, and both of which had great videos.
They were decent enough tracks, and listening to them had a similar effect as popping sheets of bubble-wrap. Save for the high-pitched, bleeping melody of ‘Eple’, they weren’t that challenging, and they were a little bit fun, and they passed the time, but there wasn’t much more to them. Same deal with most of the rest of the album. For me, though, one track on Melody A.M. stood out as seeming to come from somewhere deeper, darker and more mysterious, and it was appropriately titled ‘A Higher Place’.
Röyksopp waste no time on ‘A Higher Place’. It kicks off with a three scene-setting drum hits and then goes straight into the main loop – a simple percussion sequence embellished by a few soothing synth chords, a constant floating, shimmering motif and, eventually, some minimalist vocal samples. It quickly establishes an offbeat-yet-driving tone and, apart from the subtle loop variations and chord changes, mostly stays there. The few repeated synth gestures are sporadic at first but become more frequent as the song continues – a steady, subtle escalation. There is no hint of verse or chorus, only variations on the same four-bar phrase – poison for some, but just the kind of thing I love.
The lyrics are simple – “take you to a higher place” – but ‘A Higher Place’ doesn’t necessarily take you all the way there. What it does is even better, something the best music (and art in general) manages to pull off: it suggests the existence of such heights rather than presenting them to you explicitly. The track is as ecstatic as the best scenes in Hitchcock films are scary, where the horror is suggested rather than shown. Röyksopp seem to bring you a glimpse of something out of human reach, just enough to get a sense that it’s out there, just for a few minutes.
There is one moment, at 2:44, that is among the closest to a metaphysical paradise as I know in contemporary music. The beat drops off and then all the synth and vocal samples dissipate, leaving a quick moment of silence before – the beat drops again, slightly more complex than before, with a new chord as a landmark to shift the tone a degree out. It’s a moment infused with subtle wonder, deflating my ego in a single beat and just forcing me to listen.
Read about more tracks I never tire of here.