Once again, Daft Punk reminds us that there is still magic within music. Ever since their small beginnings in the early 90s, the French electronic duo has demonstrated music’s allure in ways that have made them one of the most prominent groups in music today. They’ve created arresting visuals for their elaborate live performances, donned stylish robot costumes, collaborated with a few of the industry’s best musicians, and made some of the the most influential music in modern times. The integration of French house music and synth-pop developed Daft Punk’s first record, 1997’s Homework. From then on, they’ve transitioned into disco and electronic on their colorful follow-up, 2001’s Discovery, which was both commercially successful and produced some of the most memorable songs of the past two decades (“One More Time,” “Digital Love,” “Harder Better Faster Stronger”). Despite the huge setbacks of 2005’s lifeless Human After All, their surreal film debut Electroma, and their vapid contribution to the Tron: Legacy soundtrack, Daft Punk obtained a popular crowd of fans after releasing their dazzling, Grammy-winning live album Alive 2007. However, the two-man group remained reserved from the spotlight and weren’t heard from for a while.
The shape-shifting maestros behind the robot helmets, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, have always kept their idea of what music should sound like by incorporating distinct influences from diverse artists and making it their own. With the booming of technology in their earlier years, Daft Punk have mostly recorded and sampled with computers. However, with technology’s prominence in the music industry nowadays, it makes the whole idea of making real music seem obsolete, for Bangalter and Homem-Christo. That’s why the inseparable duo have accentuated the old-fashioned feel of music from the 1970s and 1980s into their highly anticipated new record Random Access Memories.
Most Daft Punk fans would expect the band to return to their EDM roots, but Random Access Memories is a slight departure from their club-friendly sound. Instead, RAM is a multi-dimensional record that revitalizes generations of jazz, funk, rock n’ roll, pop, electronic, and disco. Though this will most likely come as a surprise and as confusion from devoted fans, Daft Punk’s top-notch craft is nevertheless commendable. This time around, the two Frenchmen have recruited several unconventional collaborators for RAM (as shown on the Collaborators web series): Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers, singer/producer Pharrell Williams, Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, actor/musician Paul Williams, vocalist/DJ Todd Edwards, Italian record producer Giorgio Moroder, pianist Chilly Gonzales, and old friend DJ Falcon. With this variety of artists, Random Access Memories contains an electrifying and visceral sound. But despite all its praiseworthy production, it might just be Random Access Memories’ heavy marketing, glossy look, and promising songs that are getting everyone pumped for the new album.
Though the conception of RAM started in 2008, the announcement of a new Daft Punk album was kept quiet, until collaborator Nile Rodgers revealed last year that one would be coming soon. Eventually, in the beginning of this year, Daft Punk left their label EMI Records for Columbia and promoted a mysterious image of what would eventually become RAM‘s album cover. Soon after, snippets of their instantly catchy lead single “Get Lucky” played in commercials during Saturday Night Live and, eventually, the announcement of the album’s title and an iTunes pre-order. Though Daft Punk are known for their obscurity, the heavy promotion for RAM sustained throughout March and April, appearing on billboards, television ads, and the aforementioned web series. Because the hype kept increasing, it seems as though this was a strategy for Daft Punk to intrigue fans, even though it could either hold them on or leave them hanging.
Personally, I think Random Access Memories is a huge step-up from its predecessors and worth listening to. However, some of the album’s elements might disappoint fans. To give an example, the first half of the idiosyncratic record is a bit underwhelming: Opener “Give Life Back to Music” builds up with Air-esque guitar riffs, but ultimately turns into a monotonous melody; “The Game of Love” and “Within” are morose, downtempo love ballads that have moments of keen emotionality but mostly do nothing with the rest; “Lose Yourself to Dance” has the potential to be memorable, especially with Pharrell William’s captivating falsetto, but drags on way too soon. However, two of RAM‘s standout tracks, “Giorgio by Moroder” and “Instant Crush,” save the first half from becoming tedious. The 9-minute “Giorgio by Moroder” is an epic, stellar clash of funky synthesizers that zoom in and out throughout until it ends with a rock-induced jam. In addition, the beginning contains a 2-minute commentary of the Italian producer, who references some of the album’s central themes of combining random-access memory technology and the human experience. “Instant Crush” features a mellow, vocoded Julian Casablancas and some guitar riffs and drum machines that reverberate a similar sound to Casablancas’ band The Strokes.
“Touch,” the Paul Williams-featured, psychedelic centerpiece to Random Access Memories, might the craziest, strangest, and most fascinating song in Daft Punk’s career, but its unusual sound is a bit risky. After the haunting vocals in the beginning, Paul Williams’ soft tenor makes it impossible to stop listening. However, “Touch” might catch off you guard, as it flickers with disco-influenced guitar wobbles, trumpets, vintage vocoders, and a children’s choir. But for some reason, its bewitching “Day in the Life” quality could make “Touch” an understated favorite off the album. RAM‘s second half is much steadier, smoother, and more lively than the rest of Random Access Memories: The star single “Get Lucky” features a timeless guitar-driven melody produced by Nile Rodgers and remarkable vocals from Pharrell Williams; The enthralling distorted guitars of “Fragments of Time” is almost like a sequel to Discovery‘s “Digital Love;” guest Panda Bear’s pitch-perfect vocals make “Doin It Right” an exceptional track; and the cinematic, 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe on album closer “Contact” ends Random Access Memories with an enlightening effect.
Daft Punk have been on a long journey with music with their many transformations. Their influential music and visual aesthetics have captivated audiences across the world, but Daft Punk have preserved the different sounds and rhythms of genre-bending music as well. Though the hype of Random Access Memories might’ve stunted people’s prediction of the album, the album demonstrates the fascinating notion that music has magic to it, a concept that has again reinforces Daft Punk one of the most influential groups in music history.
Suggested Tracks: “Giorgio by Moroder,” “Instant Crush,” “Get Lucky,” “Doin’ It Right”