Norwegian electro-dance duo R?yksopp strikes again with Junior, the group’s third studio album, to be followed shortly by Senior later in 2009. It’s ambitious to release two albums in just one year — impressive and surprising that based on the first half, the double-release is on track to be a spectacular success.

Opening with brief laughter that quickly gives way to a bouncy beat and floating vocals, Junior sets a tone of levity and fun. As on previous R?yksopp albums, the duo borrows the talent of various female vocalists for a track or two, creating a diversity that contrasts nicely with the unifying synth. Junior showcases four guest singers — Swedes Lykke Li and Robyn, fellow Norwegian Anneli Drecker, and Karin Dreijer Andersson, easily recognizable as the lead vocalist of the electronic-music group The Knife.

While the sassy slew of enlisted firecrackers each enriches Junior in her own way, Robyn and Andersson stand out as particular contributions to the album’s dreamlike explosiveness. The sole track by Robyn, “The Girl and the Robot” is one of the darker points on the album, making her pronunciation of “robit” all the more hilarious even if it’s just her Swedish accent causing the vocalic shift.

Although Junior‘s success is largely aided by the guest vocalists, the duo can hold their own too. The opening track, and the album’s first single, “Happy Up Here,” demonstrates clearly that R?yksopp is more than capable of crafting a groovy dance-pop tune built upon layers of beats and loops. “R?yksopp Forever” further attests to this melodic deftness, as well as conveying that the duo suffers from no lack of creative momentum.

The same cannot be said, however, for “Silver Cruiser,” the album’s last song featuring no guest vocalist, and also the only song that disappoints in any sense. A chill down-tempo detour, the track feels out of place in terms of genre and lack of complexity. Serving no real function independently or transitionally, Junior could have done without it, though it doesn’t really detract anything from the album either.

On the whole, however, Junior is incredibly enveloping and simply delightful. A consistent grooviness and magnetism pervade the entire album, stunning at first and growing better as the surprising little details emerge after a few listens. Junior is one of the best albums of the new year and one of the best in the genre. It’s an inspired, fresh and rare treat that an entire album be so satisfying.

Once again proving the duo as forerunners of the electro/dance-pop fusion genre and pioneers of wonderfully bizarre sounds, R?yksopp delivered big on Junior and has raised both the expectations for and intrigue surrounding the follow-up album Senior due later this year.

4 1/2 stars out of 5.