So…the world has finally heard the whole thing, and everyone has a very strong opinion. Based on social media and Reddit posters (trolls), the world is pretty much split. Either they don’t get it or they’re pointing out your shortcomings because YOU don’t get it. Well, as that’s completely uncalled for, I believe we have a grasp on the situation, and what you may not realize is: IT’S OK, IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT. It’s just going to take a few more listens. I know that seems unfair to ask someone who doesn’t like it to try it a few more times, but that’s exactly what I’m saying. Lacking the tell-tale builds and complex, elongated drops that have made Daft Punk world-renowned, it seems like, for many of the newly converted, socially-inquisitive EDM fans, Daft Punk became a difficult flavor for them to digest. Whether you believe they missed the mark or nailed it, please leave your hate at the door.
Thomas Bangalter (silver, pictured right) and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (gold, left) were in a unique position as the unquestioned leaders and the major influence for much of the contemporary Electronic Dance Movement, and their fourth studio album, the eagerly-anticipated Random Access Memories, is the resultant of multiple factors that guided them through the entire process.
1. Daft Punk is considered the best in electronic music. (Challenge #1) To a point, debatable, but when you have over 8.1 million fans on Facebook and are continually the most requested live act still in existence, the bar is set astronomically high. Expectations are rarely met, but the one positive is that everyone wants to work with you. As fans first, electronic producers, both the up-and-coming and the ultra famous, want to work with their idols. After announcing their signing with Columbia Records (with a picture, mind you), they had the internet going nuts. All anyone could talk about was how long it had been since the Tron: Legacy original soundtrack and what the recent rumors say about their first live appearance in over four years (still no word). The behind-the-scenes featurettes on YouTube received hundreds of thousands of views within hours, and bringing in these older musical influences had to compound that as undoubtedly Challenge #2.
2. Most of today’s EDM is synthesized, not recorded. (Challenge #3) The “instruments” in today’s compositions are synthetic and are sometimes annoyingly so. After creating every past album in their home studio, Daft Punk opted for a more authentic, polished sound that utilized professional musicians and the obvious complications that arise with recording computer-accurate raw audio (Challenge #4). As their goal was to press vinyl with native instruments, they wanted to create something lasting and timeless. Presumably, in an effort to set themselves apart from the field, DP aimed for a more emotionally-resonant sound.
3. We’re a remix culture, where the originals are digested quickly (then forgotten) – then, they’re altered and reworked by many. (Challenge #5) After their lead single “Get Lucky” featuring Pharrell Williams and the guitar stylings of Nile Rodgers was released, countless remixes have appeared on blogs, social media sites, and at live events. From an original track that is ambivalently enjoyable, the long, tantalizing builds are absent, and the drop is funky but muted (when compared to today’s “bass in your face” mentality). It’s hard to imagine fog machines, bright lasers, or blasts of confetti to any of the tracks on this album, but I’d still love to see the accompanying live show. However, as Daft Punk has already announced that they’ll be remixing their own album, it seems that they’ve kept this mentality in mind as well.
4. YouTube, Soundcloud, and Facebook are the main sources for music news and releases. (Challenge #6) They treated this release differently.The anticipation for this album was palpable with every fan of electronic music dying for a presentation comparable to their Alive 2007 live album. However, with the access that social media provide, the number of self-proclaimed “critics” are infinite and ballsy. There’s no filter for them, and sometimes, when people don’t get what they were expecting (or think they want), they cry…mostly on the Internet.
So, how does Daft Punk meet these challenges? By doing something so different that it’s amazing.
Considering Daft Punk’s current position, we probably should’ve gauged our expectations for R.A.M. a little bit better. Since outlandish expectations were set, Daft Punk decided to change the rules. Their latest offering is out there in its own way. When given the opportunity, they’ve always introduced us to new, often seemingly foreign, ideas, and by reminding us that music doesn’t always need to be constructed via computer code, the authenticity of this album is refreshing. When the collaborators were announced, it should’ve been expected that their contributions would not be electronically warped and repackaged to fit today’s contemporary style of peaks, amplitudes, and rage-inducing drops. With disco-funk legends on the bill, fans of furry things and flashing lights should have seen this coming. We ALL should’ve seen this coming.
Built like an experience, Random Access Memories is all one big rise, although the absence of a major, generic fall seems to be the most frustrating aspect for some. The build is longer and spans multiple tracks, and THAT is what most people are missing. Spend 74 minutes with these Frenchmen, and you’ll come to realize that this is just a taste of what’s to come…two composers flexing, if you will. It’s dance music to the beat of Daft Punk’s drum. Remember why we fell in love with them in the first place. This is exactly like that all over again. Eventually, you’ll move to their tunes without even realizing it.
Read the track-by-track reviews and final summary below.
“Give Life Back To Music” – Funky Disco Groove
The introduction erupts in a fanfare that grabs your attention. Something is fast approaching through the noise pollution. This is something different. A line is drawn when the groove flips to disco, which carries you along for the ride. You aren’t moving yet, but with the changes in tone from the picking guitar in the funk to the disruptive phrasing of power chords, this fresh new style of muted joy is expressive and noteworthy. Although the length could be shortened, letting the beat ride out is a punctuation mark at the end of this clear statement. We’re different (better)… That ellipsis, the cliffhanger, foreshadows what’s in store for the rest of this adventure.
“The Game of Love” – Sensual Downtempo
Slowing it down, “The Game of Love” is an emotionally profound bedroom rattler that takes the syncopated strum pattern of the guitar and couples it with piano etudes. The synth solos are sultry and smooth, and that loud ominous bass is unapologetic. Similar to the underground cousin of disco (R&B), these vibes cascade down your body – first at your chest to your arms and then your legs, making it a sexually-charged thriller (in the right context). The vocals are tantalizing. You might want to take a second.
“Giorgio by Moroder” – Electro Jazz/Tron-esque
The vocal sample of Giorgio Moroder speaking is informative, but a bit taxing for the rager/dancer, but fades out at 1:51. Then, he comes back in again at 4:58, but it’s a short visit. However, if you make it through all that, the moving arpeggio of synths is building towards something great. This is a contender for longest foreplay on a single track, and the clear drop doesn’t arrive until 5 minutes in and even that is primarily orchestral. There are fits of hardstyle in the last two minutes that makes that sliver of time one of the noteworthy gems on the album, but as it sounds like a rock band at a dive bar, there’s much to be desired. The building frenzy and ultimate chaos makes this track the first orgasm in a 74-minute session, and it’s one of the tracks I’m looking forward to hearing remixed.
“Within” – Sensual Downtempo
After the hype of “Giorgio” wears off, it’s cuddle time. While everyone gathers their thoughts and tries to digest everything that just happened, “Within” is a more hauntingly beautiful downtempo love ballad. As the quest for love is lonely, this track is sure to be a guilty pleasure (like cry-/singing in the car alone) for some. With bass that resonates within the void left by a broken heart, this is the slowest-feeling and downright depressing track of the album. It makes you think about love in a much darker, transcendental way.
“Instant Crush” Ft. Julian Casablancas (from the Strokes) – 90′s Pop
This track sounds like a 90′s rock love ballad (i.e. the Wallflowers). After the depression of “Within,” “Instant Crush” is a bit more upbeat. Butterflies that metamorphose from young and fleeting love seem to fly on the vocal waves of Julian Casablancas. With a continual style beat, where little changes, the construction is eerily similar to verse-hook-verse-hook-bridge-solo-hook format of indie rock and popular music. Repeated listens will make this track a sing-a-long treat for your car or weekend pre-parties, but really, with summer mere days from here, this track would do better with a beer (don’t drink and drive).
“Lose Yourself To Dance” Ft. Pharrell Williams – Here’s where it gets good…
So, it’s at this point that you may have lost interest. Take a minute. Yes, that’s more disco-style guitar strumming, but listen to Pharrell throw down on this track. As one of his better lyrical features, the simplicity in this track is intoxicating. The production is pretty basic with a handclap that pulses like a heart over a funky bass line, but the vocal part is the take away here. The layers are expertly laid, and you start to see the lost soul of the Daft Punk we once knew…finally.
“Touch” Ft. Paul Williams - Organic Space Contrast
The future arrives, but not in the way you were expecting. It’s entrancing, but lacks movement. It’s just an emotional stasis that builds and builds until Paul Williams’ voice impacts across synth chords that make up yet another ballad. However, when the hi hat pattern enters and stays, the pace and flavor of this track continues to build into a drop. Yup. This time it has the rag-time flavor of an old speakeasy, but that’s fitting, since it feels almost illegal to enjoy this track. However, with these cosmic samples intertwined around a very organic core, the audio literally caresses your face in showers of light and sensation. Disregard the downtempo bridge. It builds to something, too. At 5:51, it’s heaven.
“Get Lucky” Ft. Pharrell Williams – Nude Disco / Nudisco
Clearly, the climax of the album (intended). It’s good. You know it. Let it ride.
“Beyond” - Ethereal Disco Funk
I think we just landed in Jurassic Park. Seriously, do you hear T-Rex?! This fanfare is congratulatory praise for the “Get Lucky” climax. I imagine being at the symphony and seeing a full orchestra performing this movie theme with the audience applauding the pomp and circumstance. Then, at the peak of the build, the lights flip off, blacklights turn on, and an eerie fog emanates from the back of the stage. Cue lasers. If you like getting into trouble at the club, this is perfect. In that glowing indiglo hue, this track transports us to fantasy land…where dreams collide with space in an eruption.
“Motherboard” – Progressive Bongo
Since you’ve already been lifted to space, the aliens have arrived in this one. Although its surface tone is dark and troubling, the drums make the experience epic. All breathing stops, while you wait in anticipation. What’s coming? Wait…what? It teeters on the cusp of being “out there,” but the appearance of the synths in the final major reveal is magical.
“Fragments of Time” Ft. Todd Edwards – Earth, Wind, and Fire Vibes
Bringing back that sensual vibe, “Fragments of Time” is a feel-good track that reflects on days gone-by that seems to echo with multiple generations. We can relate, and as every moment in EDM seems to be fleeting in nature, “the dream” mentioned encapsulates the importance of “right place, right time.” This will be perfect for a summer drive with the windows down. It’s a fast-paced groove that will have you smiling, like you have your very own secret.
“Doin’ It Right” Ft. Panda Bear – The Closer
If the entire album was like this track, there’d be no debate. Easily, the unanimous runaway favorite (besides “Get Lucky”). With hard-hitting bass that pairs nicely with Panda Bear’s vocals, the drum patterns have a trap influence that will undoubtedly make this track remain as the current favorite. Although the measured downbeats are more reserved than we’d like, this entire track is a phenomenal change of pace for all the disco and funk.
“Contact” – The Future of Daft Punk
Finally, you meet an astronaut. He describes what he’s seeing, and then the music flips with a rising frenzy. It builds and builds and builds some more. Eventually, technology can’t keep up in a thrilling ironic situation, where a completely organic masterpiece is ended by the shortcomings of technology. Damn, it just unplugs and drops you. See ya.
Final Summary: “Disco” or “dance” are the closest genre labels you could affix to this album, besides “Daft Punk,” but as disco is the foundation for much of contemporary dance music, Daft Punk is taking everyone back to school. Holistically, the album is an example of when music is truly beautiful. Not some new style of compressing or filtering, or even some old, antiquated sample revamped for today’s audience, but the emotional impact songs have on us is the primary focus. Daft Punk wants to educate the young and rejuvenate the old. It’s NOT a new idea to go back to your roots, but when it’s done like this, it’s hard to argue with the results. This epic journey rediscovers the soul of dance music by taking the listener away both spiritually and emotionally. With a lover, this album will make much more sense, as the tracks are emotionally tuned for honest and abstract lovemaking. I mean, it is what it is. Tracks like “Contact,” “Giorgio,” and “Get Lucky” remind us that Daft Punk can still construct phrases and drops, but they just used a different style of raging for this album. R.A.M. doesn’t breathe life into EDM, but no one else is doing music like this. Try something different. Digest something real. This isn’t an EDM album. It’s a Daft Punk album. They made an album that clearly states, “this is why you love us.” It’s poignant, ambitious, and just what the world needed. Take it or leave it.
You want my opinion? If dubstep is “robots fucking” I’d say the new daft punk album is closer to “robots making love”.
— jAAAke (@killthenoise) May 14, 2013
LIKE Daft Punk