I started writing this review well before actually hearing Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. In fact my enthusiasm for this record spins from a 15 second SNL clip popularized in a 10 minute loop on YouTube. I simply could not get enough of the infectious single’s “Get Lucky” loop. Then when the Coachella ad became available it was quickly remixed with the original clip and passed off as the complete song. The clip introduced us to Pharell’s gorgeous harmonies, which propelled Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” into an unforgettable track. Yeah—a track of which I had heard one minute and couldn’t get enough of.
This same kind of thing happened in 2010 when the Tron: Legacy soundtrack sprouted up. People were clamoring for new Daft Punk and creating their own versions of songs based around snippets of music featured in the trailers. Daft Punk has a reputation of bringing their work to a whole other level with each release. Fans react so enthusiastically to their music because of this. In fact when Human After All, the bands third full length record, leaked in 2005 fans suspected that the new Daft Punk wasn’t really Daft Punk at all but in actuality an elaborate hoax. In comparison to their second album, Discovery, these new songs sounded haphazard, lazy, and too repetitive. That reputation was latter put to rest when these new songs were effortlessly blended with their older material during their 2007 concerts, featured on the album Alive 2007.
So, it’s been 8 years since a proper follow up to Human After All and it looks like were getting not only a great album but perhaps an instant classic. Daft Punk went back to their roots and enlisted the help of dance legends to mechanically produce the sounds on this record. And it shows. The music is textured, lively, bouncy and most of all has an extra helping of soul. The irony is not lost on me when I consider that two guys dressed in robots suits are doing something more human that anything I can hear on a top 40 station today.
That being said the album just doesn’t have the “umph” that is typical of every other Daft Punk release. The songs are well recorded and the arrangements make them sound like honest-to-goodness 70’s dance records, so if you’re expecting club favorites like “One More Time” you can forget it. The beauty of the record is that it fully embraces “MUSIC” as a whole and not just the niche classification of electronic dance music. It signals that Daft Punk is growing and evolving and that they feel comfortable enough to distance themselves from what had initially made them popular. The opening track, “Give Life Back to Music”, aims to do just what it title promises, which perfectly captures the record’s mood.
There are a number of great tunes on Random Access Memories, namely “Giorgio by Moroder,” in which Moroder recalls his career. It’s a way for the completely impersonal robotic facade of Daft Punk to share even more humanity. The way the track ebbs and flows into different genres and simultaneously embraces all of Daft Punk’s strong suits really works well.
“Instant Crush” begins with a fairly middle-of-the-road guitar riff. It’s only when the muted guitar reaches its first real hook that it feels like cotton candy melting in your mouth. As it returns to its pre-hook verse we patiently savor each musical tease until, at last, the track pushes through an extended keytar solo and back to its sugary sweet chorus.
The mid-tempo “Lose yourself to Dance” revels in its funky groove. It’s when the robot voice instructs us that “Everybody’s dancing on the floor Getting ready for more” that the track really starts to open up. Some of the changes in Daft Punk’s style feel more natural when the robot voices chime in. It’s one of the few stylistic links from previous records that remains intact.
“Touch” is an 8 minute epic that begins with another robot voice questioning it’s humanity, leading to an Andrew Lloyd Webber type melody that segues into pure disco and a jazzy romp that eventually cascades into a 60s sing along, complete with a “Day in the life” orchestral crescendo (a subtle message that the Robots were striving for a classic album, something that could be remembered for decades).
Some of the songs on this record are so big that you’d swear you were hearing a different band. The opening of “Beyond” sounds completely out of touch of what you’d expect on a Daft Punk record, but somehow it works.
One of my favorite tracks is the slickly produced “Doin’ it Right.” A track that sounds like a perfect blend of late 60s Beach Boys and Daft Punk. It doesn’t work on paper but it sounds gorgeous through the headphones. Panda Bear’s contribution can’t be understated.
Random Access Memories closes with the track “Contact,” which pulls together synthesizers, fantastic drumming, and various sound effects to propel the track into outer space.
This album will take a while to adjust to, but it’s totally worth the effort. For those who are feeling alienated about the direction on this record, just wait until your hear these hooks remixed in a live setting. Better yet give it about 10 listens and then try to go to sleep without some kind of robotic voice repeating endlessly in your head.