In the “distant future,” there were these two radical french dudes who made some tasty jams, and they descended onto earth in the late 1990’s and changed music for a generation.
They revolutionized the sounds and the possibilities of synthesizers and house music internationally, and became so immensely popular that one might wonder if it was a result of the sound of their music, or the helmeted obscurity of their public mystique. Some might even describe the band’s ‘Alive’ tour in 2007 as this generation’s Woodstock. Whether or not that is true, people absolutely love Daft Punk.
And rightfully so, as I would be one to argue that their second album, 2003’s “Discovery” is one of the greatest collections of music of all time with tracks that still hold up 10 years later like they came out yesterday such as ‘One More Time,’ ‘Harder Better Faster Stronger,’ and, of course there was always ‘Around the World’ on 1997’s “Homework.”
While their third album in ’05, “Human After All” was released to mixed reviews, there are few people who keep up with modern music that at least don’t recognize ‘Technologic’ when they hear it, and the duo has only become more popular with each passing year from the millennial generation discovering their first two albums.
A few weeks ago, Daft Punk reappeared out of the sky to bring us a new single to get people into the summer spirit a little early, and everyone wanted to “stay up all night for good fun” after hearing their collaboration with Pharrell Williams in ‘Get Lucky.’ While it’s not as much of an instant classic as ‘One More Time,’ it’s a simple fun track that puts the listener in an equally fun mood, and fans have clamored for the full album since.
And, as though a clash of lightning struck on Monday, May the 13th in the year of 2013, the funk gods sent a sign: “Random Access Memories” had leaked. Not only leaked, but Daft Punk put up the full album on iTunes free to stream for the public. Gaby here at Young Folks actually posted about this news yesterday! Check that out, too.
It’s a class act on Daft Punk’s part for sure, and a huge service to the fans. So, I sat down to listen to “Random Access Memories,” and it was good.
And, well yeah, that’s about it. The album was good. Not horrible, not amazing, not passable, just straight up good. “Random Access Memories” is a fascinating departure from the typical electronica style, and attempts to make an album that is a hybrid of the auto-tuned synth vocals and beats we’re accustomed to, as well as an homage to a time before such music was even fathomable, in the 1970’s.
Rather than having a sound that is purely futuristic dance and house music, it transports listeners back in time, where the album takes each song into a bizarre experimentation of Daft Punk throwing back to old school jazzy and soulful funk styles, a time of cheesy spy films, Ron Jeremy and Wa-Wa Pedals.
It’s a sound that might remind older listeners of musicians of the past such as Earth Wind and Fire or The Doobie Brothers, and, particularly, Michael Jackson, and, obviously the Italian pioneer of dance music, Giorgio Moroder, whose legacy receives an entire 9 minute tribute track on “Random Access” entitled ‘Giorgio by Moroder’ almost as an interview about the musician sharing his view on the freedoms of being a musician.
The album opens with ‘Give Life Back to Music,’ where Nile Rodgers’ guitar backs up Daft Punk’s iconic expressive robot vocals, confirming the sound we heard in ‘Get Lucky’ would be consistent through the album. The second track, ‘Game of Love’ suddenly becomes a slow moving grove, erring more on the techno side we’re familiar with, despite its pace. However, the pace slows even further once we reach the fourth track, ‘Within,’ prominently featuring Chilly Gonzalez on piano. It’s a track that is shockingly unexpected from Daft Punk, almost as though they were singing in Thom Yorke’s place in a new Radiohead single. The tempo of the album picks back up again with Julian Casablancas as a featured artist for the track ‘Instant Crush,’ hot off the heels of The Strokes oddly experimental album, “Comedown Machine.” It’s on the sixth song of “Random Access,” however, that I started getting hooked again after ‘Giorgio,’ with ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’ having a sense of pure entertainment, expressing that true retro vibe that the album wants to express, as the first of two tracks on the album to feature Pharrell Williams with a consistent rise in tone and beat with Pharrell’s request for the listener to “lose yourself to dance,” overlapping with Daft Punk’s backing, repetitively encouraging you to “Come on, come on, come on, come on,” and it works, while also being in the half of the album that truly succeeds in combing these two sounds from two very different worlds.
At this point in the album, the ebb and flow repeats itself, with hit or miss tracks like the absurdly long ‘Touch’ to filler songs that really only bridge two others together, like the way ‘Motherboard’ segues into the catchy ‘Fragments of Time.’ Quite possibly my favorite track on the album features Panda Bear from Animal Collective, collaborating on ‘Doin’ It Right,’ which accomplishes a mellow sound for Daft Punk song with a somber tone to it.
The album’s last track almost seems like it’s a bit too much. ‘Contact’ opens with a larger than life feeling with an excerpt of recorded audio logs of Captain Eugene Cernan on the Apollo 17 mission, following a hyper-escalating synthesizer sound and intense organs, reaching such high notes and intense frequencies that it almost feels as though Daft Punk is supposed to be ascending to the heavens, and human ears and speakers can’t fathom the blissful electronica. When, really, it just felt like my eardrums were about to blow before the album snaps out, strangely leaving me with a feeling like I wanted to go back and listen to the album all over again.
If there were a plot to coincide with this album, I would describe it as how Daft Punk found a time machine and teleported back into the 1970s and had the night of their lives as world’s clashed in composing retro and futuristic sounds together. It’s a great and ambitious concept, and I wanted to love every second of it, but the album sadly is hit or miss. About half of the tracks hit the proper sweet spot of combining groovy 70’s funky sound with the intense beats of electronica and techno, where the other half either overstays its welcome by a couple of minutes, or it just sounds a little sloppy.
Is this the ascension of Daft Punk? Absolutely not by any means, but it’s a hell of a lot of pure, fun entertainment, and is a welcome departure of sound for the band after “Human After All,” and while there won’t be any songs coming off of this album that will be as synonymous with the name Daft Punk as the others, I’m certain there will be a few tracks from “Random Access Memories” that will stick with listeners through the summer of 2013 and beyond.
“Random Access Memories” will release for purchase digitally, on CD and vinyl on May 17th internationally, and on May 21st in the United States.
Give Life Back to Music
Lose Yourself to Dance (feat. Pharrell Williams)
Get Lucky (feat. Pharrell Williams)
Fragments of Time (feat. Todd Edwards)
Doin’ It Right (feat. Panda Bear)