Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories isn’t what you expected. It’s confusing. There are no drops. Robots have been replaced with live instrumentation and it feels like it’s missing the electronic dance music elements that Daft Punk essentially helped craft. Still, it’s a compelling experience composed purely out of creative expression and free from any predetermined formats popular in electronic music today.
Random Access Memories is a radical exploration of our concept of dance music, but only because of how Daft Punk is globally adorned and recognized. Their bold choice to re-imagine disco by combining live instrumentation and electronic music will foster creativity for other producers, but to call it revolutionary is utterly shortsighted. This neglects the art of electronica artists like LCD Soundsystem, Cut Copy or Miike Snow.
Generally fans will gripe that in Thomas and Guy’s desire to produce something new and revive dance music, they failed (possibly intentionally) to re-create the pure energy, emotion and scale found in past works like “One More Time”, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” or “Around The World”. The closest thing may be “Giorgio by Moroder”.
At no time listening through does it feel necessary to press replay, but that could be attributed to the compulsion or need to continue the auditory experience. Did we want endearing lyrics sang by futuristic robots on top of a funky disco beat with brilliant plays on pop culture? Most definitely yes.
When Nile Rodgers’ funky guitar stokes and Pharrell’s smooth delivery expressing club culture overpower the French house elements of “Get Lucky”, it’s like we’re being cheated. Collaborators should enhance one’s style, not overcome. Listening through, you will find it easy to identify who was involved in the production of each single.
However when you put your expectations and fanboy-ism aside and consider the way iTunes has cannibalized the album experience by forcing us to focus on 99 cent singles rather than judging the collection as a whole, Random Access Memories is incredible. Rarely do we as music fans sit down and allow the tracks to play through one by one as they were meant to. Daft Punk commands this.
Random Access Memories is Daft Punk’s art, meant only to be consumed in one way. To do so otherwise would be a sign of disrespect.
The elation and pure ecstasy of a well-timed Daft Punk drop is incomparable. However you came to love dance music, at some point in time there was this relationship created between you and Daft Punk. It’s impossible not to. Their discography includes many timeless pieces of music.
So is Random Access Memories timeless? Will there be a place for these songs years from now?
It’s difficult to judge such things now, but safely we can assume that the album represents an evolution of dance music. With it’s creation Thomas and Guy have opened the door for musicians, producers, kids in their garage to combine live instrumentation and electronic dance music. It’s the same way they influenced today’s top producers like EDM producer Porter Robinson, they do the same for the next generation with Random Access Memories.
The distaste for how mainstream EDM has become runs rampant in the scene, but again Daft Punk has shown that music more than anything is cyclical by nature. Here we have the duo first responsible for popularizing house music in the 1990s, and their high profile return has them combining electronic music with live instrumentation. Dance music isn’t going anywhere.
Critically the album will be heiled as the salvation from commercial dance music or judged as a production that tried too hard or too early. I think that if you’re able to separate yourself from the overwhelming expectations created by the media and your own, that you’ll find Random Access Memories is a good, but not great album.
Note: For those worried or concerned about the lack of drops, Daft Punk said that they were going to be doing remixes of their own music. They wanted to do this album without compromise. The mainstage music is coming.
Random Access Memories Song by Song Review
Give Life Back to Music: a slow downbeat introduction, that sets the tone and expectations for the album. It’s cool and smooth, something that you put on as you prepare for your night sipping a well mixed liquor beverage. Clearly influenced by Nile Rodgers as the similarities between this and “Get Lucky” are glaring.
The Game of Love: finally we get the robots, but the ambient sounding track is confusing and expected. Here’s where the journey truly starts and instead of wondering about your expectations getting met, you’re able to settle down and interpret the experience and make it your own.
Giorgio by Moroder: When Moroder is finished talking about birthing synthesizers, we get what might be the only drop on the whole album at around 2:00 in. Supported by an orchestra, an aggressive synth pattern and heavy bass chords, it feels futuristic at times but ends abruptly with a thrusting guitar solo. Moroder’s line, “Once you free your mind about the concept of harmony and music being correct, you can do whatever you want” is intentionally left in place.
Within: A very soulful and deep track, the robots make use of a jazz-like drum-beat with beautifully accompanied piano keys. This is finally added with a robotic voice contemplating his life and love. A much slower and shorter track than many of the others, it’s a perfect fit for the middle of the album. The track very much reminds me of a robot lamenting the fact that he is not human, and thus has nothing “within”. “There are so many things I don’t understand/ There’s a world within me that I cannot explain.”
Instant Crush (feat. Julian Casablancas): A groovy and very upbeat track, “Instant Crush” uses simply a guitar, synthesizer and drums to form a perfect summer jam. Containing robotic, yet human vocals, this song is almost impossible to not dance to. The chorus features beautiful synths that bounce around and fit perfectly with the quick vocals. Its got a bit of a lamenting feel to it also, but gets more positive during the choruses. It features a guitar solo towards the end that accentuates the song impeccably.
Lose Yourself to Dance (feat Pharrell Williams): A break from the previous lull, Williams secures control of the groovy disco line from the start as he commands you to lose yourself to dance. Bigger and more powerful than “Get Lucky”, this is most likely the third single to come off of the album. Should Daft Punk decide to tour, it may be impossible without bringing Pharrell along.
Touch: With french horns, a live chorus and a piano medley that sounds like a crossover of “Get Lucky” and an old Western film, not even “Touch” knows what kind of song it is.
Get Lucky: The full-version of the pre-released single is essentially the same, just with some longer breaks. It’s a groovy, summer jam with Pharrel’s great RnB voice accentuating the track. The guitar licks are just perfect, combining electronic and jazzy sounds perfectly.
Beyond: Dark: A perfect blend of jazz and electronic music, Beyond is a slow jam with some disco elements. This track reminds me a lot of Daft Punk’s earlier song “Something About Us.” It’s very slow, sensual and emotional. The vocals on this track are much more robotic than some other tracks on this album.
Motherboard: Opening with fast-paced drums and bongos, this track then breaks into beautiful strings and flutes. It’s a full instrumental. The middle of the track then breaks into a much heavier sound, with pounding drums. It breaks after this to space-like keys, and ends back in the heavy drums accompanying the keys, for a very spacey-sounding track.
Fragments of time: Featuring Todd Edwards, this song is another slow, jazzy jam. Edwards vocals fit perfectly into this groovy summer anthem. The choruses jump into a bouncy use of vocals and keys. Echoing guitar licks add for a peculiar, yet very fitting effect.
Doin’ it right: Perhaps the most “EDM-Sounding” song of the album, it features familiar bass lines and poppy snares with a robotic voice introducing the song. It then jumps into Panda Bear of Animal Collective’s unique, angelic vocals. The song even includes synth bars that almost resemble a trap song.
Contact: An epic finale to this diverse and groundbreaking album, the track begins with an eerie sample of an astronaut talking back to mission control. It then breaks into an ethereal build up with the drums banging hard behind contrasting synths. The middle of the track builds even more, offering light-speed keys and electronic guitar riffs. Its almost as if we are launching off into space with this track. The build finally ends in a static, but brings us into even another build. We truly are launching off now. ‘Contact’ is appropriately named because with the end of the album, we have finally made contact with the robots. And it was beautiful. The track ends in a harsh fashion, as if a harsh barrier was just broken.