Disclaimer: there will be many statements in this review that seem over-the-top. Rest assured that I mean everything I say and that, though there is a possibility that I will enter the realm of obscurity from time to time, this is the real deal.
Okay; let’s review. French duo Daft Punk is best known for their funk-inspired dance tunes, specifically “Around the World,” “One More Time,” and “Harder Better Faster Stronger.” They’re also known for only making appearances as their Android identities and playing shows that are incredibly stimulating, both aurally and visually. When the announcement that a new album was on its way, fans were afroth with glee, expecting an album filled to bursting with sexy dance hits that would become the staple of the decade. The tracklist leaked (showing mostly collaborations) and people began raising eyebrows, some with doubt and others with excitement, but the general expectation began to change. Daft Punk would be offering something different, it seemed. Random Access Memories leaked a few days before it came out, and hundreds of thousands of fans flocked to the web to get their first listen, myself included. (Don’t worry, I had it already preordered, so it’s not like I stole it or anything.) The first few times I listened to it, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was hearing. I heard the fun dancey tunes, sure, but alongside them was a collection of songs I couldn’t comfortably define. I knew I liked the album, then I listened to it a few more times.
Then I loved the album.
What Daft Punk has done with this record is symbolically beautiful. It is a cry to popular modern music: remember your roots. Remember instrumentation. Remember to put love into what you make. Almost everything on the record is actual analog recordings of a session musician or member of an orchestra playing Daft Punk’s arrangements. It is integrated beautifully and seamlessly with the electronics, and every synthesizer, vocoder, and sampled beat sounds like the Droids spent hours poring over them, achieving a perfection that can be appreciated for its clarity and simplicity. It is more, though, than that. It is a prog-rock album in that it flips genres from moment to moment, with a grand concept permeating the album as a whole, and it is an album in truth. More than a collection of new songs, it is meant to be listened to in it’s entirety. Let’s get into the details.
The album’s opening notes are reminiscent of an arena rock show complete with bubbling effects and sweeping pans, then drops into a classic funk rhythm, complete with Nile Rogers on guitar and a smooth piano riff. The lyrics set the stage for the entire album:
Let the music in tonight, just turn on the music
Let the music of your life give life back to music
From there we meander to a slower tune, The Game Of Love, where a smooth vocoded track gives way to an even smoother synth solo (I’m not kidding with the prog-rock thing here, most of these songs have elaborate solo sections,) whereupon the listener is so thoroughly chilled you might think you just landed in the fortress of solitude (heyoooooo.)
Giorgio By Moroder is reminiscent of the spoken-word-over-sound-tracks from Dark Side of the Moon (in fact, Daft Punk cite that album as a major inspiration for the record,) and features Giovanni Giorgio Moroder talking about his experience with electronic music. After the spoken-word section, a fantastic house section with some awesome arpeggiated synth-lines takes over, then melts into a more open-ended solo section where keys, guitars, drums, and bass all get their chance at a remarkably jazzy movement in the tune. Between the solo sections, an orchestral arrangement invades, weaving a cinematic climb that collides again with the arpeggiated theme, this time adorned with some fantastic riffing by the session musicians. The tune climbs to even more exciting heights, exploding into an aggressively rocking guitar solo, then finally lets up and moves on to yet another excellent tune. The following tune–Within–provides an interesting contrast and illustrates just how versatile this album is in terms of genre. It’s another slow tune, with the excellent musicianship of the session players highlighted again.
I’m not even sure how to write about Instant Crush–the next tune–since I spent every time it played as I wrote this review dancing and singing along. It’s (probably) my favorite song on the record, and features Julian Casablancas singing an incredibly catchy chorus, and…well, just listen to it.
The rest of the album features dancey songs with Pharrell Williams and Nile Rogers, what I imagine a 70’s-era musical would be like, and more genre-bending tunes made cohesive by the effective use of electronic sounds and Daft Punk’s trademark heavily vocoded singing.
One more noteworthy track is Doin’ it Right, featuring Panda Bear (better known as the lead singer/frontman of Animal Collective) which embodies a perfect union between the two artists. It actually feels like a true collaboration, and it’s an absolutely fantastic song.
This album is important to music in many ways, but the most important thing to me is the use of analog devices and real musicians. In an age where popular music is dominated by carbon-copied dance tunes produced by anyone with a computer (and don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all that stuff is necessarily bad, but perhaps lacking in the soul department,) it is incredibly refreshing and inspiring to see artists who helped usher in the new dance age return to the roots of what made the genre possible. It is my hope–and I believe the hope of Daft Punk as well–that this album will inspire more amateur musicians to pick up an instrument and integrate it into their digital constructions. This album is truly excellent and I heartily recommend it to anyone and everyone. 5/5