Upon showing this album to a few of my friends who haven’t been keeping up, the almost unanimous reaction is “wait, this is Daft Punk?!” And I have to say, I had a similar response to my first listen of the album. The best way I can describe it is that Daft Punk is kind of like that childhood friend who went away to college or wherever for a few years and came back into a completely different scene. I’ve seen this described a few times as “Nü Disco.” While I appreciate people trying to categorize this peerless album, that moniker makes me think of Hybrid Theory Linkin Park covering Earth, Wind and Fire. This is proving to be a glorious month for electronica. First Justice, now this! Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories proves once again that these guys have not only “still got it,” but they can still be pioneers.
It gets funky right off the bat with bat with “Give Life Back to Music.” If you liked the single version of “Get Lucky,” it’s safe to say that you will enjoy this album. In an interview with an Australian radio station, the duo stated that “Get Lucky” ‘sums up’ the album. I can think of no better way to describe the overall sound. You’ll find elements of many decades within this record, all the while being uniquely Daft Punk. The furthest departure from their core sound may be the next track “The Game of Love.” If you can imagine electronic bedroom music… I couldn’t imagine it either until I heard this.
Third track “Giorgio by Moroder” is a lot to listen to. You have some history of the famed Italian composer Giorgio Moroder in the beginning, followed by some synths, which are then accompanied by a few jazzy notes, a soaring string section that sounds straight out of a JRPG, then some hip-hop drums to tie it all together, quickly followed by a crescendo of guitar and the proverbial kitchen sink. It’s something you appreciate more every time you listen to it.
You’ll find that no two tracks are completely alike on this album. There is simply too much to talk about for one review. The guest, funky guitar work by Nile Rogers is the perfect complement for this album. This is made abundantly evident in the first track and “Get Lucky,” which is extended far past what you hear in the single version. It is worth noting the guest spots on this album; it’s a rolodex of greats, both old and new. I’d been a fan of Pharrell Williams before, but I don’t think his singing has ever been better than it is on “Lose Yourself to Dance” and “Get Lucky.” Composer Paul Williams‘ work on “Touch” makes for a musical hodgepodge that features everything from Flaming Lips-style experimentation to an atmospheric kind of sound usually reserved for the big screen. And Panda Bear – if you’re a fan of Daft Punk and Animal Collective, “Doin’ It Right” is exactly what you would want/expect.
Random Access Memories is the kind of album that when you hear it, you just know that a lot of time went in to it. The artists noted that the sounds of this album had been rattling in their brains for over half a decade. That being said, it is a much more streamlined and articulate album. It lacks some of that spur of the moment, synth-jamming charm that their previous efforts have. After my first listen I sat slack-jawed, asking myself what had just happened. I didn’t get it. But after many more listens my appreciation of this album grew. Daft Punk has delivered us a history lesson. Not just of the genre, but a walkthrough of the band’s inspirations – all the way back to their long nights in discotheques when they were young i.e. “Fragments of Time.”
This is not the Daft Punk you grew up with, nor the Daft Punk from the fight scene in Tron. They’ve created a completely new sound for them that stems from the inspirations and influences they have had throughout their lives, creating homage to the music they love. “Get Lucky” will surely be not only one of the best songs they’ve ever done, but one of the finest songs of the year. It is a perfect blend of their past and present work. Yes, this album may not be what you expected, but give it a listen – actually, give it 10 listens. It gets better every time. Daft Punk is back and better than ever.