the past never looked so bright
Two-time Grammy award winners and electronica music legends Daft Punk (Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo) look to add a few pages to their story with a fourth major record label release, “Random Access Memories.”
The album is a major left turn for a band that has made its name on mastering the world of synth, oscillation and everything that is electronic in music. While “Random Access Memories” has an undeniable digital feel, its main ingredients are somewhat of a new world for Daft Punk (acoustic drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, woodwind instruments, horn sections, a string orchestra and even a choir).
Daft Punk said the idea for the concept of this album came post-Tron soundtrack after months of frustration-filled recordings with the same old song-and-dance. The end-result of that frustration yielded an interesting comparison between the future and the past. Hence, the album’s title: “Random Access Memories.” The title meaning is a contrast between the brain/mind and digital hard drives/computers (a byproduct of the always-evolving technology of the world). In addition, the “Random Access Memories” title alludes to past decades of musical evolution that have taken place (whether they be sitting in either a neuron or database).
The album is filled with 70s and 80s influence as Daft Punk enlisted the help of a huge cast in order to make this record boom with such authenticity. We are talking about music goliaths like Nile Rodgers, Chilly Gonzalez, Julian Casablancas, Pharrell Williams, Paul Williams, Noah Lennox, Todd Imperatrice, Garth Porter, Tony Mitchell, Daryl Braithwaite and DJ Falcon. I’m sure I’m forgetting an important name or two, as there are literally too many names to list here. The point is that this album was very much a collaborative effort between musicians and record producers from multiple different musical genres.
“Random Access Memories” opens up strong with a short, eight-measure-long guitar solo/drumfill that transitions into a funky head-bopping jam that incites a visceral groove right down to the listener’s bones. The calling card of Daft Punk is audibly noticeable right off the bat with the robotic vocals waltzing into the track like a mechanical George Clinton (vocals by core Daft Punk members using the vocoder). Daft Punk admitted in an interview that they were trying to create a paradox of sorts by having a robotic voice sing lyrics with an abundance expression and emotion. The second song, “The Game of Love,” keeps on that same path, but with a slower and more subdued tempo and melody (and with more love-lyric-ish vocals with the vocoder).
The experimentation begins in the third track, “Giorgio by Moroder.” The track is named after famed German musician, Giorgio Moroder, who tells his life story in a monologue during the song’s verses. There were a few interesting things that took place in the making of this track. The microphones that are used to record Moroder’s vocals are vintage from different past decades and representative of the album’s reoccurring theme (the transition from the past to the present).
The fifth track (“Instant Crush”) is my personal favorite on the album. There is something to the simplistic drumbeat and heavy synth that just goes so well with the vocals. Julian Casablancas sings the lyrics through a vocoder (for some reason, I was picking up a regretful vibe from the vocals). I could play the song over and over again (and have in my head ever since I picked up the album).
Track six (“LoseYourself to Dance” and track eight (“Get Lucky,” the albums first single) both feature Pharrell Williams (The Neptunes) channeling “Off the Wall”-era Michael Jackson to create a couple of very dancy songs. If there is one thing that the masses of Daft Punk fans expect, it’s some danceable tracks. Well, look no further than these two tracks as they are absolutely funky and moving enough to turn any dance floor into a mobscene.
“Touch” (featuring Paul Williams on vocals) is one of those tracks that sits by itself as far as definition goes. The track begins with some weird samples and moves into Paul Williams’ vocal part (with no vocoder). It then transitions into a disco-ish refrain complete with horns and electric piano. The song really hits the high when it gets to this dreamy-sounding bridge with a choir singing, “If love is the answer, you’ll hold on.” After listening to this album in its entirety, this was one of the two or three tracks that stuck out in my mind.
“Random Access Memories” switches gears on the fourth track, “Within” (which features a collaboration with another well-known artist, Chilly Gonzales). Gonzales brings a more classical piano feel, and mixed with light bass, percussion and vocoder vocals; it takes the album to a different place. (“Within” marks the change in key from A-minor to B-flat minor, which continues throughout the rest of the album).
The album comes to a close with a larger-than-life track titled, “Contact.” It is one of the few vocal-less tracks on the album and it feels like a good ending to a good concept (it made sense that the track was produced by DJ Falcon being that it was also one of the few sample-heavy songs). It opens up with an eerie, old recording from the Apollo 17 mission where Astronaut Eugene Cernan witnesses an unidentified flying object. “Contact” hits the pique of epic for what I’m sure will go down as the one of the more memorable albums to hit the music-listening public in years.
I hate to come off as a fan instead of an unbiased observer, but it was hard to find any flaws in this album — it’s nearly seamless. Even if you’re not a fan of electronic music, “Random Access Memories” is still worth a listen. It started off as Daft Punk’s aimless approach to creating something new and evolved into an act of completely calculated creation. I don’t know if “Random Access Memories” is album of the year quite yet, but I think it definitely has made the shortlist.