Daft Punk: Random Access Memories

14 Aug

In the late 90s, two Frenchmen released a landmark debut album that forced the world to reconsider its current taste in dance music. This album was followed in 2001 by an even more historic album that, once again, forced the world to reconsider. Ensconced invariably in metallic helmets and a coolness that doesn’t quit, Daft Punk have made it their job to redefine things for a world that is far behind the curve. What happens, then, when they choose to delve in the past rather than look towards the future?

Brilliance.

Random Access Memories

In May 2013, Daft Punk built a futuristic discotheque in space called Random Access Memories, and they’re inviting everyone to their party – not just the cool kids. Old-time artists sessions (Paul Jackson Jr., JR Robinson et al) form an intoxicating mesh of disco-jazz, while dreadlocked funk icon Nile Rodgers frets his way through the fabric of their material. Hip-hop/R&B superstar Pharell Williams croons in the foreground and Panda Bear is at the back selling acid tabs. And at the very middle of all this commotion are two robots, trying their very best to make music like they’re humans from the 70s.

Before RAM released, Daft Punk recorded disco king Giorgio Moroder talking them through his rise to fame. Eventually, they chose to include one snippet, heard on “Giorgio by Moroder”, about his involvement in the birth of disco music. “I wanted to make a record with the sounds of the 50s, the 60s, the 70s,” explains Giorgio in his clipped German accent, “And then have a sound of the future.” This is the defining sentence, the centerpiece and the crux of Daft Punk’s effort in this album. What Daft Punk tries to do on this album is what Giorgio tried to do all those years ago.

Giorgio Morodor on the cover of his '77 album From Here to Eternity

Giorgio Morodor on the cover of his ’77 album From Here to Eternity

But an ideological centerpiece is not all that RAM has. EDM (which, by the way, Giorgio Moroder basically invented in ‘77) in its modern form caters to humankind’s strange desire to sound more machine-like. But Daft Punk has, as usual, taken this idea one step forward. Random Access Memories is a story about humans that became robots and are trying to remember what it’s like to be human again. The robots try to access their half-forgotten human side through their random access memories. Get it?

The story starts off, in my opinion, right before Giorgio Moroder gives Daft Punk his clue of combining the past with the future. On “Lose Yourself to Dance” (a directive that really does result in full-body grooving) , we meet Pharell Williams at his absolute soul-funk best, in a jam with Nile Rodgers, who’s belting out the tightest disco riffs this side of the 70s. They create magic again on the spectacular first single “Get Lucky” which would be an honest-to-God hit in disco’s heyday. On both tracks, the Parisian androids are tinkering quietly in the background.

/

After Giorgio’s monologue, a few things change in the story. Album opener “Give Life Back to Music” is their distilled learning from Mr. Moroder: in order to create the future, revive the past. Pharell leaves, the vocoder enters, and Nile Rodgers continues to provide the funkadelic backbone. “Let the music of your life/ Give life back to music,” they implore, and you’re inclined to agree.

Pretty soon, though, the robot takes over the human. “The Game of Love” is about a robot emoting, almost like a human, about heartbreak and eventual acceptance, and on “Within”, the robot is slowly starting to lose touch with its human side completely. “There are so many things that I don’t understand/ There’s a world within me that I cannot explain,” laments a vocoder-edged automaton, amidst slinky piano and theatrical flourishes.

Thomas Bangalter (L), Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (R)

Thomas Bangalter (L), Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (R)

The storyline (and album) finds dead center on “Touch”, a magnificent magnum opus featuring the old-world folk voice of Paul Williams. The robot, expressing itself through Williams, asks how to relate its computerized memory of touch to the human feeling of touch; and after a full-blown blissful horn and gospel section, the robot realizes the answer is (of course) love. After this life-altering moment (“Sweet touch/ you’ve almost convinced me I’m real”), Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories comes full circle: about humans that slowly became robots, and are slowly turning back into humans. It will send shivers down your spine, I promise you.

Why aren’t the songs in chronological order? Because that’s not how our (human) brains work. Memories are distorted, rearranged and accessed (yes, randomly) by our brain; Daft Punk is trying to mimic that very phenomenon. The album title is really very clever, non?

Daft Punk makes music that foils critical analysis. They want to play 70s disco in their spaceship from the year 4000, because they think it would be a fun thing to do: and that’s their only reason. They are able to distill their playfulness and whimsy into a structured, inspired album – without becoming self-indulgent – and therein exists their greatness. Towards the end of “Giorgio by Moroder”, Giorgio leaves one final observation in the listener’s mind. “Once you free your mind about a concept of harmony and music being correct, you can do whatever you want,” he notes. Daft Punk understand this very well, and on this album, you will, too.

Best Tracks: Get Lucky, Giorgio by Moroder, Lose Yourself to Dance

Bonus:

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Daft Punk: Random Access Memories”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Top Five Songs of 2013: Neeharika | Top Five Records - December 23, 2013

    […] View our full album review here. […]

  2. The Top Five Albums of 2013: Neeharika’s List | Top Five Records - December 31, 2013

    […] Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories (full review here) above an Arctic Monkeys masterpiece really made me think. On one hand, I’ve been a rabid Arctic […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: