Thursday 16 May 2013

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

Way back in 1997 with the release of ‘Homework’, Daft Punk brought funk to dance music.  Fast forward to 2013, four albums later, and the French duo are bringing dance music to funk; going back in time to show us the future.

Those expecting ‘Discovery' part two will be disappointed.  This is not an immediate, hook-laden pop album.  It takes time for ‘Random Access Memories’ to unfurl its intricacies.  ‘Discovery’ may be their best known album, but ‘RAM’ is their five-year-in-the-making opus.  After the hype this may not live up to expectations, but since when have Daft Punk ever played by the rules?

The duo have sought to replicate the funk-disco of the late 70s and 80s, eschewing their usual propensity for synthesisers for live instruments.  If you’re yet to watch the ‘Collaborators’ videos on the duo’s website then do so.  They reveal the ideas behind the production – an insight that belies the duo’s anonymity.  The sound is clean, smooth and simple, yet contains an immense amount of craftsmanship that oozes through the speakers. Their perfectionism is plain to see.

At the thematic heart of the album is Giorgio by Morodor, the duo's hommage to the Italian producer.  As the producer behind Donna Summer's greatest hits (and by turn, the beginnings of modern electronic pop), 'RAM' is indebted to his work.  Giorgio by Morodor is a synth heavy track that features a monologue from Morodor explaining his working methods.  It might be the third track, but this is the starting point for the album.

Yet 'RAM' is not just about recreating the past: this is the music of the past, present and future.  The production might feature largely live musicians, but it remains unmistakably Daft Punk in its structures. Fragments of Time is a prime example, treating live recordings as jerky, chopped up samples for a sound that's simultaneously retro and futuristic.

The album does get off to a slow start and many of the tracks settle in a mid-tempo.  But what the album lacks in velocity it makes up for in groove, largely owing to the guitar licks of Nile Rodgers.  As Pharrell sings, you will lose yourself to dance - from opening track Give Life Back To Music that immediately establishes the album's style, to the sexy Lose Yourself To Dance, the lengthy and episodic Touch, and, of course, lead single Get Lucky.  In fact the only disappointment is that the full version of Get Lucky lacks the flow of the radio edit.  Even the quieter moments such as Beyond and Motherboard offer well-produced moments of respite.

There are plenty of emotive moments too amongst the soulful grooves.  Within is essentially an android love song, losing none of its human emotional impact for the vocoded singing, whilst Doin' It Right soars, its rising counter-melodies weaving together in cross-rhythm.

The latter track has a hypnotic quality that, together with closing track Contact, bring things full circle as the most traditionally Daft Punk tracks of the album.  Contact's central riff is reminiscent of Aerodynamic oscillating above an insane, virtuosic drum solo.  After all the funk guitars, this is a track that lurches us into the future.

Above all, 'RAM' is a soul record.  In a pop landscape saturated with electronic music, it's ironic that it takes two robots to remind us we're human after all.


Gizzle's Choice:
* The whole thing.

Listen: 'Random Access Memories' is streaming on iTunes and released on 20th May.