Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

A little known group called Daft Punk have released a new album. Nothing big.

Except it is the most anticipated release I can recall in recent years. Imagine a scenario like this where you have waited for years and the hype was just grown and grown, slowly snippets are released and the hype only increases. The hype has a waistband larger than the circumference of the globe. Surely the disappointment would be huge? Well, think again.

This is my attempt to review an album so under scrutiny that everyone cat and his son are trying to review it with some decorum. Nevertheless here we go.

Starting with Give Life Back To Music, is an uplifting disco track and instantly we are greeted with a good understand of how the gist of the album will play out; in a good way. The opener is the important track to define the start of the album and to make it clear this is new ground. It begins with an uplifting, surging riff, sounding a little reminiscent of the breakdown in Space Oddity. The lyric line is less a story and more a sprinkling into the sound, treated like an instrument, yet oddly human. More human than most severe cases of auto-tune. The song has 3 distinct sections to it, punctuated subtly with hand claps, muted guitar and an underlying funk staccato guitar. It returns to the opening phrase with added vocals and then back to the disco. Utterly groovy, but retaining a signature disco house drum that has always been present in the Robots work. Towards the later half you can hear a party of people, a little background texture to give the song some added purpose.

The Game of Love starts with cymbals lightly caressed, swelling guitars, Rhodes piano, and a modulated synth. A funk guitar enters the left channel and the rest of the song arrives. A mixture of a series of guitars panned across makes this a bit of a sombre affair, but groovy nonetheless. The drums are a little later year Motown in sound, especially that snare. The vocoder once again employed thoroughly but with beautiful touches, it breaks, it warps, and employs vibrato making it jump between notes and glisten. Whilst this album does not explode on to the stage, it crawls and draws you in. Starting with the statement ‘this is what this album is’ track followed by a robotic lament that sounds like it is trying to be human, eery yet poignant.

Giorgio by Moroder is a song that was built around the producer telling his story. A pleasant homage to the producer and producers of that era who truly helped discover little tricks that became wildly used within studios during the disco fuelled era and the 80s, up until today. It begins with Giorgio’s voice and a background of people dining whilst slow funk plays in the background. As Giorgio’s story progresses so does the music. It is a strange collage with excellent arpeggio synths used. It has some extremely fusion moments and even briefly turns a little latin. After Giorgio says ‘There was no preconception what to do’ an orchestra begins playing the chords of the section before. The strings remain as a live drum kit pounds over the top and the arpeggio synths return. The song feels somewhat inspired by their Tron Legacy work; there is also a scratching type noise (that I think might be a synth actually). It edges towards prog times and is definitely daring for an act that people expect a certain product from.

Within begins with a piano piece that changes key before the drums, Rhodes and vocoder. It is another melancholy piece, a side of disco people often forget.  It fails to resolve, lingering on a gentle crash roll out. Instant Crush features a four on the floor pattern with Julian Casablanca’s (of the Strokes) churned through a vocoder with some of the original vocal lying underneath. It is reminiscent of the more Rock Disco especially with the distorted synths and guitars. Julian’s vocal is bizarrely addictive. Both good tracks with sombre hooks.

Lose Yourself to Dance the first of the Pharrell Williams tracks. A more happy track about letting yourself go to the sound of music. The repeated line of ‘sweat, sweat, sweat’ is accentuated by handclaps and it is these touches on the album that make it work so well.

Touch is an album winner for me. It is rare that the middle of an album outshines the bookend, however this track is responsible for it here. It is a swarming mix of assorted strings, organs and electric pianos. Beginning with a sine synth line and ‘wind’ effect that howls, a cultivated soundscape builds with dropped synth lines that speed up and slow down again. The word ‘touch’ is mutilated as the track begins to get wilder. A synthetic chromatic ascend brings the track to Paul William’s vocal with a simple keyboard underneath. The lyrics are the most heartfelt on the album. The 8 minute piece strives and goes around the houses in the most rewarding way possible. The orchestra, to the brass, to the Donna Summer feel good disco section, to the choir atmospheric segment. The orchestra swell reminding me somewhat of A Day in the Life before just Paul’s voice is left solo.

Get Lucky has obviously been played to high hill since it has been number 1 almost globally in charts. However, the album review is 2 minutes longer, and man those 2 minutes are glorious.

Beyond begins with a John William’s styled intro, with strings and timpani galore creating a sense of heroic shenanigans ahead. It then goes a little melancholy with the vocoder coming out in full force. Featuring acoustic guitar and harpsichord building the texture and then further string work. The track is partly penned by Paul Williams, and thus like Touch has a ballad feel about it. One of the acoustic guitars is gated and is played like a funk guitar, creating a unique feel.

Motherboard is an instrumental track with blends arpeggio flutes with percussion, brush laden drums, grain synth, baschet and all sorts of other instrumentation. It felt a little bland the first time I heard it, but I cranked up and then truly listened to the work of the drums underneath, building up a sense of what the track is. It is a very unique track on the album, but definitely feels as part of a collection, carrying some of the motifs of the album.

Fragments of Time reunites the robots with Todd Edwards from the classic Daft track, Face to Face. Actually, Face to Face is the most modern interpretation of Disco from way back when. Anyway, this song features slide guitar a blaze; acting like a classic triangle wave synth. It is an odd one, as a lot of misplaced panned hidden synths that blend so well and effortlessly it is hard to describe them. The verses act as a sort of summertime anthem, relaxed whilst the chorus flirts with the minor then returns to major for a distinct dance song flavour. A Bruce Swedien style drum sound. During the instrumental section it goes mad with sixteenths and tambourine for a jolly lift. It is rich and never forces a hook, making it the secret diamond on the album. My only concern is the slightly clumsy end.

Doin it Right is a sort of modern-day RnB affair that builds upon a vocoder rendition of the song title. Some classic drum machines features and it definitely feels inspired by the more ‘simplistic’ RnB of recent years. Featuring Panda Bear from Animal Collective on vocals the song is very juxtaposed on the album, neglecting a lot of the principles of the earlier songs. It doesn’t feature live drums, it isn’t built around a disco groove with funk palm muted guitars, or Chic guitars, or Hall and Oates key work. It is mainly a drum machine, the repeating vocoder line and later on a classic dark synth. I’d say this is the only dud on the album, as it never truly goes anywhere, but it isn’t a horrible mess either.

Contact bookends the album in a rather bemusing affair as it is even less the other tracks. A sample from astronauts from the Apollo 16 and 17 missions is featured at the beginning as the repeating interstellar chord sequence underpins. Featuring a more organ based synth sound, slightly square wave quality it is joined by a live kit travelling around hitting all the toms and choking the hi hat. It builds into a loud raucous affair of noises and assorted distorted arpeggiated lead synths. It is a bit like their work on the Tron soundtrack, and so it probably stands as a reminder of what work they’ve done in recent years and as a last note on all the little song samples.

Overall the album is a definite hark back to music. It feels fresh nevertheless and encompasses a range of tastes, the one thing tying them together is music with genuine soul, peaks and valleys. The duo have spoken out, reaffirming this notion and it shows even without that knowledge.

If I had to make a ‘recipe’ for this album it would be:

  • 2 Cups of Chic
  • 5 Teaspoons of Michael Jackson (The Thriller Brand if you can)
  • A dash of Yellow Magic Orchestra
  • A pound of Super Tramp
  • A pinch of Jamoroquai
  • A sprinkling of Marvin Gaye
  • The squeeze of ELO (for some of the vocoder and strings)
  • Covered in Daft Punk glorious – Serve well

I hope that covers a range of imagery. And that is what I mean, imagery, not imitation or honky covers.

What is nice as well is how W…i….d…e and dynamic the songs are. Some of the coolest mixing and production, with tasteful compression and impeccable production values.

It is an insult to call this album an EDM or dance album of any sort. It is a Rhythm and Disco album. RnD for short. It uses synths like they are still toys to be enjoyed, it strays from current musical trends (like the house/dubstep drum sound) and I will honestly be unsurprised if more people try to do it. Whilst the group are not the first to have re-embraced the genre and styles on the album in recent years, they are the first BIG act to really have done it so fluently and finely. An incredible array and definitely a contender for best album of the year.

The biggest flaw would be that the album is maybe 1 track longer than necessary, and some of the tracks are more 12 inch than required (Lose Yourself To Dance being a contender here). A minor flaw would be that I would have liked a track earlier in the album that was a tad faster. However it does have pace within track elements (namely Giorgio by Moroder).

The array of musicians collected on the album is impressive. What is most impressive is how the robots have managed to craft a genuine opus. It hints at their past, but hints more at the past of truly live sounding music that is still produced however without over production. It reminds me to always strive to be better, and that is somewhat the message. A collection of memories that lead us to a better future. Or that is the pretentious label I am sticking on it.

Every penny and pound spent on the production is heard and the layers build well that you can distinguish instrumentation or little touches upon every listen, on varying sources (IE Car stereo, headphones, studio monitors.) Whilst not flawless, this is deserving of high accolade and will be enjoyed continually after repeated listens, gaining value each time.

1. “Give Life Back to Music” (featuring Nile Rodgers)
2. “The Game of Love”
3. “Giorgio by Moroder” (featuring Giorgio Moroder)
4. “Within” (featuring Chilly Gonzales)
5. “Instant Crush” (featuring Julian Casablancas)
6. “Lose Yourself to Dance” (featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers)
7. “Touch” (featuring Paul Williams)
8. “Get Lucky” (featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers)
9. “Beyond”
10. “Motherboard”
11. “Fragments of Time” (featuring Todd Edwards)
12. “Doin’ It Right” (featuring Panda Bear)
13. “Contact” (featuring DJ Falcon)