Daft Punk // Random Access Memories // May 20, 2013 // Columbia
It seems that Daft Punk’s brand of dance pop always leaves so much to the imagination that people are simply unable to comprehend their albums when they drop. The poppy ghetto house of Homework was usual stuff in the mid 90s before revealing itself as a great house LP with rare longevity. Discovery was frowned upon due to its cheeky mixture of anime and disco. That record ended up forming sample based pop as we know it know. Even the black swan Human After All showed its true colours during Daft Punk’s pyramid tour and inspired Justice, who then inspired American EDM scene. Really, it’s hard to look at the metal like drops from the young American producers and not think of the rocking nature of Human After All. Those three albums make for some big shoes to fill and amazingly enough, Daft Punk do that by releasing an anti-EDM record.
So if anything, the thirteen songs on Random Access Memories make us rethink how we view Daft Punk in the context of dance music. Their attention to an album as a statement is unlike that of many of their peers and while Homework was a record layered with many dancefloor cuts, Discovery’s vocal hooks and Human After All’s plummeting repetition makes them sound like a pop and a rock record respectively. Now a lot has been made out of Daft Punk’s return to the backwards looking sounds of their childhood but Random Access Memories isn’t a rediscovery of their most popular phase. Daft Punk’s fourth studio record is their most complete album statement yet and while song for song it may not improve upon the many peaks of the first two albums, the unifying theme found here turns Random Access Memories into a progressive rock album of sorts. It too contains a couple of moments for the mainstream radio but the rest of the record doesn’t deal in minor filler either. This is (once again) a journey of two robots into humanity and this is the closest they’ve got to succeeding.
Random Access Memories is not a dance album in either French house or EDM terms. It has more in common with the gently swaying sounds of late 70s yacht rock and early experiments that formed synthesiser music. At the centre of the latter we get an outrageous tribute to synth legend Giorgio Moroder. Giorgio By Moroder is an epic, turning itself out from a dialogue driven funk number into a swollen, orchestral odyssey that ends with a metal guitar riff. This part of the record forms the most outrageous tracks on Random Access Memories and while they’re the most fun, they’re also the cheesiest. Album closer Contact is the sound of robots leaving planet Earth, accelerating with each passing second. It’s high tempo but it’s hardly dancefloor. The heart of the record, Paul Williams featuring Touch is the epitomy of this sonic extravaganza. Whiskey soaked vocals, strings, cosmic sound effects, ballroom sequences, children vocals and abrupt endings. It’s glistening with bright colours, it’s flamboyant and outrageous, the sort of musical equivalent to Bioshock: Infinite that could only happen in 2013. And if you’re willing to have fun then Daft Punk have already won as the rest of the record is mostly flaw free. There’s many potential singles in the vocal cuts like Lose Yourself To Dance, Fragments Of Time and Instant Crush. On the opposite side there’s tracks like The Game Of Love and Within, romantic ballads in the vein of Something About You and Make Love
But all of this flamboyance would be lost if Daft Punk still operated as electronic musicians. The only real criticism you can throw at Discovery is that it was very loop trigger happy. It felt rough around the edges. And while Random Access Memories has is share of blatant “4/4 + new layer” of mechanics, Daft Punk are living creatures here. The lack of samples makes this a very enjoyable, quintessentially French rock record. Instant Crush feels like a Phoenix track while Beyond is an actually cosmic Air cut but while more universal, Daft Punk don’t lose their basic disco appeal that was always at the core of their music. Add the fact that production of the mood setters like Beyond and Motherboard is simply sublime and you’ll be left with possibly the most adventurous and best sounding French pop rock record since Histoire De Melody Nelson. What’s more, the values that these electronic pop icons display here are something to admire in the times of no effort required laptop pop. The French robots have already changed the course of radio house three times. Don’t be shocked if you’re witnessing the fourth one. Random Access Memories may be all past but it’s fun, it’s fresh and it’s simply great. Pretty shocking to realise that it has actually been made by humans after all.