• Sat, Apr 20, 2024

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories


album Reviews May 24, 03:07pm

A review of Random Access Memories by Daft Punk.


With Random Access Memories, Daft Punk’s first release after eight years of studio silence, the duo has accomplished a remarkable feat. They have managed to craft an album that sounds 100 percent, completely, and unmistakably like a Daft Punk album without much resembling anything they’ve done before. While previous releases have certainly had slow burner album cuts, they’ve been propelled by big-room anthems firmly grounded in house music, with a heavy-handed splash of disco ethos.

Random Access Memories flips the script; a disco album that hasn’t quite forgotten the past two decades of club music.  Given the rise of nu disco over the past several years, one is left with the impression that Daft Punk may finally have the freedom to put out the sort of lush, sprawling, languid album they’ve always dreamt of.  On the other hand, nearly two decades into their career, they may have simply aged out of the club.

Whatever the cause, the result is, above all, sexy.  Not sleek, svelte, top model sexy, but sweaty, sleazy, sexy.  Chest hair and gold chains sexy. Cocaine in the back of the limo on the way to the club sexy.  After-after-party, the raging’s all over but we don’t stop until the sun’s up sexy.

It is this vibe that anchor’s the RAM’s Pharrell-featuring lead single, ‘Get Lucky’. As a testament to the sea change represented by this album, the track manages to be perhaps Daft Punk’s least club oriented single, while being one of the more dancefloor friendly tracks on the album. Pharrell has made a career as a vocalist by straddling the line between sexy and just-plain-raunchy, and his appearance here is no exception. With falsetto as his home base, Pharrell tells us over and over why he’s up all night: to get lucky.

The centre piece of the album, however, may be the Giorgio Moroder collaboration ‘Giorgio by Moroder’. Giorgio Moroder, the 1970s and ‘80s Italian electronic music pioneer, is undoubtedly the grandfather of this album.  Its blend of synthetic and organic, its arpeggiated Moog synthesizers, its nods to the western classical tradition, and dripping mustachioed sleaze are all pure Moroder.  In nine minutes, the track touches on classic Moroder disco-funk, epic synthesized strings, hip-hop scratches, and a Rhoades organ jam reminiscent of the electro-jazz of St. Germain. Alternately dancefloor- ready and downbeat, the song is a microcosm of the album as a whole.

Random Access Memorieshits its peak with the chicken-scratch funk guitar and handclap beat of ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’.  Layers of building and looping vocoded-vocals work together to build the track into the kind of sound you’d want to play in the world’s smallest nightclub; in which ten beautiful strangers would slowly lose their clothing in a room with padded leather walls and champagne. And when the vocals drop out leaving only looping guitar and clapping hands… well, that’s when you’d put away the cameras.

When the album stumbles, it is because it steps away from this synthetic disco formula.  ‘Fragments of Time’, featuring Todd Edwards, crosses into post-disco vocal jazz fusion territory, and does us no favors in the process.  ‘Touch’, which spends three of its eight minutes warming up into the unreformed disco track it is, forgets that music by Daft Punk really ought to sound like it was made by sexy robots, not 1970s studio hacks.

Two tracks, however, manage to diverge from the disco formula and draw us in all the same.  The downtempo ballad ‘Within’ echoes Daft Punk’s French compatriot in synthesized sleaze, Sebastian Tellier, and does so with flare. ‘Doing it Right’ is built over 808-ish sub-bass and claps, reminiscent of early hip-hop, but layers vocals by Panda Bear that are unmistakably contemporary indie rock. The dissonance works.

Ultimately, Daft Punk didn’t do what we expected. And we’re not mad about that.  From the cartoon anthems of yesteryear, the pair has matured into almost grown-folks music.  “Lounge” music is often a dirty word.  But when it comes from this pair of futuristic and funky robots, one would be well advised to sit back, shut up, and let the champagne chill.

Stream the whole album here:

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