Daft Punk picks great musicians. What a ridiculously spectacular way to become the world’s foremost electronic group in the world. Write complicated funk electronic music. Take the best guitarist, the best drummer, the best bassist, the best vocalists they can find. Go to Paris. Assemble. Think of Daft Punk as designers at Ikea making electronic music for the masses, easily assembled when the pieces are all of good enough quality to not fall apart. Their newest release, Random Access Memories (Columbia Records, May 21 2013), is an overt tribute to disco and soul of the late 70’s and 80’s with enough complexity in the writing that necessitates the highest quality session musicians for the tracks to come together in a fashion that grooves naturally.
Coming a full 8 years after their previous studio release Human After All, this album introduces a new feel to the impassive robotic duo’s catalog. It’s safe to say this record is more orchestrated than before, both in the scope of melodic phraseology and the actual instrumentation utilized. Classical arrangements are scattered throughout, unperturbed keys flourish, live drumming, untouched vocals. (Is this a band covering the new Daft Punk release?)
Daft Punk feat Julian Casablancas’ “Instant Crush”
The album is hefty at over an hour long and there are extended opus style tracks which delve into new territory every minute before returning to earlier motifs and building up to the danceability we are so used to from the kings of dance beats. The album indicates their ambition to constantly push themselves and to present listeners with a career that would span as much of the world’s dance history as possible. The album thrives on strong instrumentation like their ever present funk guitar licks, driving bass, and metronomic percussion. In every track, even some of the head scratchers, there is at least one instrument that the listener can easily attach to and this gives the album, experimental as it is, an accessibility that has defined Daft Punk since their beginnings in the mid-90’s rave scene.
Daft Punk feat Panda Bear’s “Doing it Right”
One wonders where the duo’s deferential tendencies on this album came from. There’s even a two minute interview of electronic forefather Giorgio Moroder within one of the more epic tracks in which he explains his beginnings and the preemptive move to use a synth metronome as electronic drums way in the beginning of the Moog era. They asked Paul Williams, the schmaltzy 70’s singer-songwriter, to sing on their most ambitious track “Touch” with its extreme momentum shifts and linear songwriting. (Is this album a Daft Punk swan song?)
They are paying tribute to musicians new (“Doin’ it Right” ft. Panda Bear) and old (Nile Rodgers plays guitar in a big way) with a product that seems to indicate their playful collaborative nature but also seems like they’re trying to high five their friends on the way out. There’s a somber feel to more of the record than expected for such a triumphant return and it begs the question if the duo will hang their helmets soon.
The album dives into emotional existentialism and relies, as usual, on the acceptance that artistic expression (read: dancing) is the way to achieve enlightenment. That Daft Punk exists and is such a worldwide phenomenon at all essentially proves this philosophy of theirs and this album, queer as it can be at times, is still one of the best dance albums of the past few years. If the duo tours in support, it could spell the potential for being one of the world’s best dance music tours in history. Pyramid or not, this tour would be different than 2006 but, like 2006, would be more explosive than the album would indicate upon first listen. Whether they tour in support or not, whether they have plans for a new release or not, it’s 2013 and Daft Punk has flexed their muscle in hip fashion and once again have the world by the hips.
Written by Case Newsom
OurVinyl | Senior Writer