Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories Review

Disclaimer : Yes, this is not Hip-Hop. No, I do not care.

Daft Punk's 4th album, and 1st in the last 8 years, Random Access Memories, ends with first contact. An astronaut describes this moment as any professional would, calmly with precise documentation. It isn't until he utters "I don't know, but there's something out there" that we get a response. Synthesizers bounce back and forth off the walls, like a game of Pong gone awry. Drums dazzle in rapid succession before we're hit with an organ that signals the coming of our Robot overlords. Then everything comes together as the frantic lights of their spaceship come barreling towards our astronaut before erupting and collapsing upon itself, crackling as the ufo rips itself apart. They have landed. "Contact" has been made. French electronic dance duo, and dazzling robots sent from outer space, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter are here to show us how to dance. 

The album as a whole is a celebration of dance and music. Not to say that Daft Punk's other 3 albums haven't exhibited such effect, they have. The difference here is that, where those make you get up and dance to the intoxicating baseline and repetitive trance, Random Access Memories makes you dance in triumph of dance itself. It isn't a coincidence either. "Give Life Back To Music", "Lose Yourself To Dance", "Fragments of Time", & "Doin' It Right" all give their rightful dues to dance and music by directly dancing and singing about it. The majority of tracks on here take direct influence from the Disco revolution of the 1970's. Daft Punk are finally able to accomplish what they've always set out to do; too fully realize Giorgio Moroder's vision of a world led by disco and 'the sound of the future' molded together in perfect harmony. Daft Punk has always had the vision of the future on lock down. Look at the suits, the helmets, the music. It all exudes futuristic excellence. 

Sadly however, at least for the majority of the first half, it doesn't translate to quality music. Many of the songs just don't have the lasting impact or staggering replay value as "Da Funk", "Around The World" or "One More Time." Where Daft Punk went with this album however, it was obvious to them those hits wouldn't exist. They're instead subbed in for more moody, slowed down tunes that follow sometimes too much from their Disco roots. "Within" & "The Game of Love" fall flat directly because of this faulty mishap. In both cases, slow tempo & percussion drag on what are already fully-fleshed out songs. Not helping their cause is the generic auto-tune, made popular recently by many Pop Artists while Daft Punk was on hiatus, that seem corny and too cheap for a record of this caliber. Yes, out of all the artists who could possibly use auto-tune Daft Punk would be #1, but in the year 2013 the gimmick has been played out and long enough.

Thankfully though, not all the record follows this route. As my interest in the project began dwindling I was hit by "Touch", the only introspective work I've seen from the robotic duo. It was a surprising twist. The 8-minute tour-de-force has the machines pondering what touch use to feel like, being formed into the robots they now reside in. It's a remarkable concept and works wonderfully. It's been years since anyone has seen Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter outside of their helmets and suits. I'd start to question what life use to be like too. Ominous sounds echo throughout the opening of the track as Daft Punk's memory slowly returns. And then ~2 minutes in, full memory is restored. The room goes quiet. Only a human voice, the most human on the entire album, becomes abundantly clear. It's amazing actually. The sounds exude pure happiness. I picture Daft Punk removing their metallic helmets in a meadow of flowers, breathing in the fresh air, touching every pedal that glides on by. They are human. But just as soon as they reach upbeat exuberance the feeling dies down, and as the track comes to a close they utter one last phrase: "You've almost convinced me I'm real/ I need something more." And just like that "Get Lucky" begins and the helmets return. They return to their slave-like duties of bringing joy to the world, while they get to experience none of it.

 As mentioned before, with the 1st half of the album lacking, it was up to the 2nd half to keep the funk rolling. "Fragments of Time" & "Doin' It Right" do a fantastic job of that. Incorporating Todd Edwards & Panda Bear respectively to sing, they both execute what typical Daft Punk tracks should sound like. Taking influence from Disco but focusing on Punk's signature style is what makes these songs work. Bouncy bleeps and blissful bloops lather the background production, forcing their human counterparts to nod their heads and tap their toes. Former tracks featuring Pharrell Williams attempted this same approach but lacked somewhat in the execution. "Get Lucky" drags for too long, and doesn't capture the magic that previous transcendental singles "One More Time" & "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" accomplished, and "Lose Yourself To Dance" just doesn't have that special something to take it one step above. 

Strangely however, the music here on Random Access Memories is far from random. In fact, it seems like one decently put together Disco record about dance, music, love and more dance. Excluding "Touch" nothing here seems out of place. "Motherboard" could be joined in as it's solely an instrumental, but clocking in at 5:40 it greatly overstays its welcome. Seeing the album title when it was announced had me excited for more of a Homework-esque collection of songs that had no meaning beyond what they set out to do. That being to make us nod our heads repeatedly with no knowledge of why. Unfortunately, the album seems to be their most cohesive work. Yes, that is a bad thing when it comes to Daft Punk. Their best when their at their most random; a collection of singles that transcend time and can be listened to just as easily the 1000th time as they can the 1st.

It isn't all bad though. Tracks like "Touch", "Doin' It Right", & "Contact" are metallic gems that shine throughout some of the Disco dust. Nothing here will compete with their legends of old, but as a whole Random Access Memories is a solid listen which will hold most over for a decent amount of time. Regrettably however, the machines that fuel Daft Punk could be cracking to every base thump, even if there's less of those here. It may be time for the robots to take their rest and remove the helmets once and for all before their time flickers like their spaceship at the end of "Contact." But if "Touch" is any indication, I wouldn't mind to see them do just that. Become human. 

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