ALBUM REVIEW: Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Random Access Memories artwork
Random Access Memories artwork

Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 11.36.33 AM

ARTIST Daft Punk

ALBUM Random Access Memories

LABEL Columbia

RELEASE DATE 21.5.2013

8.9 | 10

Not many bands could produce the type of internet hysteria caused by a :15 tease of new music as Frenchmen Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, better known by their stage name, Daft Punk. The release was preceded by scant samplings of first single “Get Lucky,” first on Saturday Night Live, before making the rounds at Coachella, easily becoming the most talked-about moment of the fest. That a band that never scored a Billboard 200 album in the top 40 (sans their Tron: Legacy work) or a top 40 single before “Get Lucky” could garner such widespread anticipation says a lot about just how timeless the duo’s music has shown itself to be.

The band’s previous output, consisting of Homework (1997) and 2001’s Discovery, laid the foundation for the current state of Top 40 music, serving as inspiration to everyone from Kanye West to Skrillex to LCD Soundsystem. Since Human After All (2005) served as the first real misstep in the duo’s catalog, the two dance music pioneers have kept a low profile. The changing tide of pop music was surely not lost on the robots as is evident on their stunning 2013 release Random Access Memories. The album serves as a sort of mission statement from the band, reminding all of us of the roots of the EDM phenomenon. “Give Life Back to Music” acts as a call to all laptop musicians to lay down their Macbook Pros and search for a more humanistic approach to the creation of music.

In the press cycle leading up to Memories, Homem-Christo and Bangalter agreed that the rise in electronica music has taken away the mystique of the genre, as now it stands as an “anyone can do it!” genre. The band’s conscientious decision to enlist the top sessions musicians in the field, musicians who have worked with everyone from Herbie Hancock to Eric Clapton to Bill Evans to David Bowie and Chic and Miles Davis gives the music here a certain life and spontaneity not found in the majority of EDM music crowding the field. On the fantastic “Giorgio by Moroder,” the Frenchmen’s assertion of the great influence of Giorgio Moroder on dance music is not lost on the listener, with the track serving as a sort of genesis statement towards the current state of the genre. The song’s second half is one of the most thrilling moments on the album, with “Contact” being the other genuinely breathtaking moment here. If “Moroder” serves as point A on the map of Daft Punk’s musical influences, “Contact” is the sound of the band coming full circle, finally achieving their goal of bringing life back to music.

The pop hits are just as catchy as any other song you’ll hear this year, with “Instant Crush,” “Doin’ It Right,” and “Lose Yourself to Dance” all serving as potential second, third, and fourth singles. On “Fragments of Time,” the band enlists Todd Edwards, vocalist on the now-classic track “Face to Face” off of Discovery. Edwards delivery recalls the work of 70s music stalwarts including Michael McDonald, and it goes a long way to say that the band is able to make the track work with his contribution.

Altogether, Random Access Memories is just as much a response to the French duo’s work on the Tron OST as it is a response to today’s EDM dominated Top 40 chart. The songs are cinematic in scope and could easily come to life on the stage. The album is highly conceptual, with “Touch” serving as the centerpiece. Paul Williams vocal addition is a brilliant choice, and the song’s journey from somber bedroom music to 70s funk to choir music is the most theatrical the band has ever sounded. “You’ve given me too much to feel” croons Williams on “Touch.” The robots have finally become humanized. It turns out all it took was a belief that the human touch has a much greater impact than the computer algorithm.

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