Album Review: Daft Punk, “Random Access Memories” (2013)

Daft Punk is easily at the top of the electronic music scene. French musicians, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, have created several big hits in the techno-pop world, including “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” (the latter of which was famously sampled by rapper, Kanye West).

However, most of their hits came from their 2001 release, and though they’ve consistently released music since then, there hasn’t been as much hype surrounding them as there has been recently after the announcement of their fourth studio album, Random Access Memories. The disc features a plethora of collaborations, including everyone from R&B singer/producer, Pharrell Williams, to Julian Casablancas of The Strokes.  The band has described the album as a tribute to the late music of the late 70’s and 80’s, and between the group’s own build up and the high expectation from fans, the album’s hype has been extraordinary.

Interestingly enough, though Random Access Memories keeps with Daft Punk’s traditional sound (for the most part), the disc isn’t all about sparkly synth lines, throbbing beats and techno grooves.  Somehow, within this collection of songs where lyrics are the very least of the focus, the music is able to evoke emotions, recall memories, induce sadness, joy and just inspire the plain need to dance.

Opening track, Give Life Back To Music, is mostly exciting thanks to the slick guitar work from the band’s newest collaborator, musician Nile Rodgers (Rodgers also contributes to Get Lucky and Give Yourself to Dance, but more on those songs later).  The guys sing the repetitive chorus (simply consisting of the song’s title) through a vocoder, and marks the first of several times we’ll hear the vocoder on the album.  Meanwhile, The Game Of Love‘s mellow percussion floats in and out of the music, creating a smooth, seductive vibe over the electronic sounds.  The sensuous feeling even manages to translate through the sultry vocoded voice and makes the track one of the first highlights on the album.

The crushing desperation of Within, with Jason Beck‘s sad, computerized voice and the sparse sound is admittedly depressing, but also sort of appealing, especially if you’ve ever felt the same sort of sadness that the song inflicts.  On the other hand, the poppy guitar that introduces Instant Crush sounds a lot less like electronica and more like something from a Taylor Swift album, which is a big surprise.  Of course, the digitized singing comes in a few seconds later (this time courtesy of, Julian Casablancas), and by the chorus, the track has transformed into another danceable, techno club beat.

Pharrell Williams
makes his first appearance on the album for the decidedly funky, Lose Yourself To Dance.  The handclaps, bouncing synthesizer and rockin’ electric guitar riff give you no option other than to do as the song suggests: to just let go, lose yourself in the music, and dance. There is, of course, the undeniably fun dance joint, Get Lucky, which I was still listening to on repeat all the way up to last week.  There’s a definite 1980’s influence here, with Williams’ vocals sounding amazingly similar to Michael Jackson’s.  It all works so well, though- the song’s refrain (“We’ve come too far to give up who we are/So let’s raise the bar and our cups to the stars”) has gotten stuck in my head repeatedly since first listen and the pop/dance feel of the track makes it an easy radio hit.  The album includes the full-length, six minute version with has an expanded dance break at the end.

DaftAlive

The techno groove of Beyond sounds like classic Daft Punk, while the ambient sounds of Motherboard are less dance-worthy, and more chill-out-on-your-bedroom-floor-and-just-listen-worthy.  Doin’ It Right is nothing more than a fun dance track, but I’m not complaining; the electronic sounds and collaboration from Animal Collective founder, Panda Bear, create a lively song that I can hardly sit still while listening to.  Another 80’s throwback exists in Fragments In Time, with a breezy pop beat that sounds a lot like Phil Collins’ “Easy Lover”.  Musician, Todd Edwards, offers up one of the few vocoder-free vocal performances on the song, making it a straight-laced pop track rather than some sort of techno/pop hybrid.  The change in musical direction is refreshing and works quite well.

Touch
is perhaps one of the only odd songs out; Paul Williams‘ voice sounds hopelessly stuck in the 70’s and the dance music which backs him seems completely out of place.  Even when the track magically transforms into a disco throwback, it still sounds wrong; really, it just sounds like someone’s grandpa wandered into the room while they were listening to a Daft Punk album and then he decided to sing along, and this is the awkward result.  Giorgio By Moroder, besides having a strange name (I swear, everytime I see the title of this song, I read it as “Mordor” and expect it to be a song about Lord of the Rings, but maybe I’m just a nerd),  includes a very lengthy monologue spoken by the song’s collaboration, Giorgio Moroder, explaining the history of his career and the evolution of his music.  Since I’m assuming that the average listener hasn’t heard of Moroder or his music, the introduction is a bit lost, and does nothing to bring any sort of inspiration to the actual song, which sounds nothing more than backing music for some 80’s arcade game.

The album comes to an end with Contact, an overwhelming cacophony of sounds ranging from synthesizers to drums and electric guitar.  The result is a bit too loud and dizzying for my tastes, but perhaps it wasn’t really meant to be listened to on my laptop speakers; I’m sure the track sounds a lot more exciting and impressive played live or at least heard at a rave or something.

Daft Punk
’s fourth studio album is quite an impressive mix of “traditional” techno/electronic music and 80’s-inspired dance music.  The blend of genres and handful of collaborators could’ve ended up being a trainwreck, but Random Access Memories ends up being a cohesive, exciting album; a well-developed journey of interesting and engaging music from start to finish.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Give Life Back to Music (featuring Nile Rodgers)
2. The Game of Love
3. Giorgio by Moroder (featuring Giorgio Moroder)
4. Within (featuring Jason “Chilly Gonzales” Beck)
5. Instant Crush (featuring Julian Casablancas)
6. Lose Yourself to Dance (featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers)
7. Touch (featuring Paul Williams)
8. Get Lucky (featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers)
9. Beyond
10. Motherboard
11. Fragments of Time (featuring Todd Edwards)
12. Doin’ It Right (featuring Panda Bear)
13. Contact (featuring DJ Falcon)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5EofwRzit0]
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