For those who appreciated The Understanding's shift toward craftier, radio-ready pop, Junior is bound to please. Though Röyksopp have always relied on the contributions of friends for their vocals, Junior leans even more of its weight on its guests. And what an A-list of Scandinavian's finest they've assembled, with cuts from Robyn, Lykke Li, Karin Dreijer Andersson and former Bel Canto lead Anneli Drecker. The caliber of the vocalists notwithstanding, it's their often idiosyncratic and bizarre timbres that make Junior distinctive. Where their prior work sometimes went with generic singers that, while technically flawless, often sounded too sweet and syrupy, Junior benefits from this contrast of jumpy, thick-bellied electro and eccentric, instantly recognizable vocalists.
Returning from her appearance on The Understanding's standout "What Else is There?", The Knife's Karin Dreijer Andersson turns in two of the record's highlights. "This Must Be It" folds Dreijer's eerie walpurgisnacht delivery into its glammy pomp, while with its tumbling rhythms and short synth stabs, "Tricky Tricky" emulates The Knife's chilly, insinuative songcraft. Swedish darling Robyn fronts the charming over-the-top pop of "The Girl and the Robot." Built on choral swaths, gummy synth parts, and blocky rhythms, the song exemplifies the duo's ability to make unrestrained music sound mannered. It's fellow Swede Lykke Li, though, that turns in Junior's most superficially charming track (a good thing here) with "Miss It So Much." Contrasted with her gigantic stage personality, on record Li maintains a shoegazer's coyness, an ability to exude both shyness and sensuality. Here, this demure quality melds with Röyksopp's bubbly, bass-heavy romanticism to form a doppelganger cut of sorts for the Karin songs: heart-on-sleeve, bursting with bright spring things.
For all of its top-heavy successes, Junior is not without flaws. The instrumentals often sparkle more than they shine. With ELO strings and general bombast, "Röyksopp Forever"'s chunky cinematism feels saccharine and outdated, while "Vision One" ain't so much homage to Stevie Wonder's "Too High" as misguided thievery. Melody A.M.'s "Sparks" guest and tour singer Anneli Drecker seems unfocused on three of Junior's less effective entries, though admittedly it's hard to blame her for "True to Life"'s stubby inertia or the overwrought Gothicism of "You Don't Have a Clue." Put these missteps aside though, and Junior is buoyed by enough alt-universe dance smashes to make it perhaps Röyksopp's best record yet.