#2 – Random Access Memories by Daft Punk

Random Access MemoriesLabel:  Columbia

Date of Release:  17-May-2013

www.daftpunk.com

If this album doesn’t make you lose yourself to dance, then call a mortician.  Because you are dead.

Daft Punk have made a relatively short, but highly influential, career out of bringing dance music to club mavens and indie rockers alike.  Over a series of singles that were released on albums like Homework and Discovery, they popularized an engaging mix of house, funk, electronic and techno music.  In the ensuing years, electronic dance music (or EDM) has become a mainstream phenomenon – ‘the kids’ today can’t get enough of acts like Swedish House Mafia and Deadmau5.  When word leaked out that Daft Punk were putting the finishing touches on a new album, the EDM world was set alight in anticipation.

So what have they done?  Daft Punk has returned with… a remarkably human, disco-infused dance-rock record.  Once again they have confounded the critics by releasing an album filled to the brim with warm keyboard sounds, live (or nearly-live) acoustic instruments and organic-sounding vocals.  In doing so, the two mysterious Frenchmen in the wacky robot helmets have made the best album of their career.

Random Access Memories is a collection of brilliant melodies and rhythms that marry the streamlined soul and funk of ‘70s groups like Chic and Sister Sledge to timeless melodies and 21st century production values.  The Parisian duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter have wisely chosen a variety of guest vocalists and musicians to help them realize their goal.

Daft Punk enlisted the talents of indie rock star Panda Bear to breathe life into the all-electronic, mid-tempo “Doin’ it Right”.  Paul Williams appears on the theatrical, grandiose “Touch”, a complex menagerie of synthesizers and playful beats.  Bangalter has been quoted as saying that “Touch” forms the emotional core of the album.  Todd Edwards brings a soft-rock flavour to “Fragments of Time”, with a hint of Steely Dan sophistication.

The Daft duo’s emphasis on creating something electronic yet red-blooded and emotional is never more evident than on “Instant Crush”.  By processing his voice, they somehow make Julian Casablancas sound, well, like a human being.  I double-dog dare you to sing a Strokes song at karaoke night – his singing voice is ridiculously hard to mimic.  Yet I find myself singing along to “Instant Crush” whenever it comes up in the playlist.

The Vocoder vocals on “Give Life Back to Music”, “The Game of Love”, “Beyond” and the somber “Within” also sparkle with life.  As with the best moments of Kraftwerk’s career, the electronic voices sound incredibly human, emotional, and affecting.  It doesn’t hurt that nearly every song features an earworm melody and crisp production.

But of course, the stars of the show that everyone knows are Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams.  “Lose Yourself to Dance” is built around the sparest of guitar figures and the snappiest of drum loops, yet comes across as the best six minutes of ‘Soul Train’ you’ve ever heard.  And what else needs to be said about the absolutely perfect pop single “Get Lucky”?  The biggest hit of the summer of 2013, you heard it blasting from every dance club, car window, and sporting event.  “Get Lucky” was released in at least two other official versions – a radio edit and an extended mix – which did nothing but expose the absolute genius behind the album track.  Every hook is perfectly executed, every instrument in exactly the right place.  Nile Rodgers provided the insanely catchy guitar loop, Pharrell delivered the exuberant lead vocal, and the Daft crew added the funky bass and robotic je-ne-sais-quoi.

This album isn’t without a few blemishes.  “Giorgio by Moroder” starts out with two minutes of monologue from the legendary Giorgio himself, but despite all the bluster about “freeing your mind” the ensuing song never really delivers the payoff of a coherent melody.  The demure instrumental track “Motherboard” feels a bit out of place in the company of its stylish siblings.  Still, with so much joy and soul crammed into one album it’s hard to quibble.  Program out one or two tracks on your iPod playlist and the rest of the album still hangs together remarkably well.  Sequencing was obviously very important to the visionary Daft duo.

Receiving nearly universal acclaim, Random Access Memories was about as much fun as you could have in 2013.

click to hear “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk – if you haven’t heard it enough times already 🙂

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