The thing about Seniors Speak is that it’s about reflecting the passions of the senior class. Today, we have an example of that passion in our seventh entry. Enjoy this thorough review of Daft Punk’s new album!
Random Access Memories: A Comprehensive Review
By Andre Bistrain, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champain, Class of 2017
Although many people wouldn’t consider themselves big fans of the Electro-Dance Music scene, they have been clearly influenced by the genre, whether it be on the dance floor of a club, or listening to the Taylor Swift’s single “We Are Never Getting Back Together”. In the last three years, EDM has risen in prominence through the music of popular DJ’s like Tiesto and Skrillex to artists like Owl City and Passion Pit, although the music has been popular underground and overseas since the early 1990’s. One of the biggest names in EDM is Daft Punk, known for their eclectic rhythms and repetitive, almost fugue-like form of composition that is now known as French House. Having released many popular hits like “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and “Technologic”, these robots are no strangers to the limelight.
On May 13, 2013 a stream was released for their new album Random Access Memories. Over the past 2 weeks, Columbia Records and Daft Punk have used effective marketing to raise hype for the album, as evidenced the international chart success of their first single “Get Lucky”. However, now that the album has been released for streaming and leaked, I would like to give my first impressions on one of the most interesting and fresh albums to be released in the EDM genre.
“Give Life Back To Music”
We are re-introduced to Daft Punk after 5 years with an explosive wall of sound! From the heavy guitars to the solid crashes of live instrumentation, our expectations for this song and album are instantly raised. However, rather than introduce a “drop” – an instrumental break commonly used in dance music to diffuse a high tension run – the song sneaks back into the pocket. Niles Rodger’s funky guitar riff with the four-on-the-floor beat really create a rhythm that implores you to bob your head to the beat. The song really builds on its title, and sets a good precedent for the album.
“The Game of Love”
Within the first few seconds of the song, the listener feels the soft driving beat with little accents of staccato guitar strumming and the lyrically driving bass line. Daft Punk serenades their listeners with a sweet and yet bitter song of love and loss, in a style that beckons back to the days of Earth, Wind and Fire and Phil Collins. This song has a lot of similar elements as a previous hit of theirs, “Something About Us”, and listening to the lyrics, one might think it’s the same melancholy soft-spoken voice that previously sang of unrequited love on that record. Although not a fast tempo dance song like previous DP hits, it is a really solid piece and contributes importantly to the flow of the album.
“Giorgio By Moroder”
The song opens to the accented voice of dance music legend Giorgio Moroder. He tells us about the story of his decision to become a musician, as in the background, catchy up-tempo music begins building piece by piece, until it softens to just a click. As we hear him say “My name is Giovanni Giorgio, but everybody calls me Giorgio”, the music quickly transforms into a melody that seems ethereal and futuristic, a theme which Moroder touches upon in his dialogue during the song. However, the true gravity of the track is not understood until the string instrumental break halfway through. This is when we begin to hear the breakdown of the track as shrill strings, loud bass pounds, rising synths, and some of the most bombastic and energized drums we have heard in a long time assaults our ears. Daft Punk was trying to send a message with this track, and that is that you don’t need gimmicks to make groovy and danceable music, you just need good composition, solid instruments, and a little bit of over-the-top musical enthusiasm.
A soft spoken track, the song is an interesting juxtaposition of what one might consider in the style of Daft Punk with what one might not. Opening with a piano intro executed beautifully by pianist Chilly Gonzalez, the song uses a modulation to change the key of the album, which had for the previous songs been in A minor to Bb minor. With the key change, we hear the music begin to build around chilly. Here, although the highly stylized vocodor-laden vocals may not have been a bit too contradictory to the sound of the piece, the lyrics are poignant and this song carries a lot of emotional weight ready for the listener to take over.
When it was announce that Julian Casablancas from The Strokes was being brought on to sing, I was unsure as to what exactly would come of the collaboration. However, having heard the song, it can safely be said that the track is strong enough to stand in comparison to the other powerhouse songs while still remaining surprisingly pop-y and catchy enough to be a summer radio staple. While not very complex melodically, the steady beat and autotuned voice of Casablancas fit like clockwork and quickly make a sonic potpourri of funk as the chorus comes around, raising the intensity level of the track.
“Lose Yourself to Dance”
In an aural love letter to the golden age of funk guitar, Michael Jackson, and club dancing, Niles Rodgers and Daft Punk use this mid-tempo beat-buster to reintroduce the groove to modern ears. With the falsetto musings of Pharrell Williams calling on the listener to hit the dance floor, classic Daft Punk vocodor runs can be heard building the pressure and really driving the listener to shake any body part they have. However, Niles’ guitar really steals the show in this song, playing a clean guitar riff that, while not overly complex, carries the entire song on its shoulders and yet struts along with swagger and confidence. While the song could be faster to make dancing to it a bit more feasible, the beat is situated so well in the pocket that one can’t help but lose themselves to dance.
I believe this is a great song stuck in the wrong album. While maintaining many components of a Daft Punk song, it contains a lot of unconventional instrumental elements, and is overly sentimental, two musical ideas that really isolate it from the entire album experience. That being said, as a song I would say that it reminds me of a song that might be sung on The Muppets, and I mean that in a good way. The song deals thematically with identification of self from the perspective of a disconnected viewer. The song is also one of the more interesting compositionally, using instrumentation including strings, clarinets and trumpets, as well as having a large moving harmonic foundation. Paul Williams’ vocal is large, cinematic, bombastic, and opulent in regards to cheesiness, yet manages to maintain a sense of grandeur and self-indulgence that’s endearing rather than isolating. Definitely a good standalone track.
The lead single and most widely recognized song from the album (due to its use in a heavy marketing) gets a nice facelift that increases the quality and replay value in comparison to the previously released radio edit single. Again using the power and drive of a Rodgers guitar riff, we are treated to the up-tempo groove and melody that screams disco, but quickly discover that Daft Punk turns this on its head by introducing robotic voices and syncopated rhythms. This delicious fusion of old and new leave a good taste in our mouths and an even better tune in our heads.
Nothing could be bigger change in comparison to the previous track than beyond. The introduction sounds like it was stolen from Super Mario Galaxy with all the sweeping strings and cinematic swoops, and the repeating motif never resolves until we are dragged back slightly unwillingly onto the roller coaster ride of rhythmic wonder. Using all the best components of songs like “Face to Face” and “Something about Us”, Daft Punk takes what they’ve learned over the span of their 20 year career and put it to good use. From the single note walking bass line to the shuffling synths, the components come together to make a track that is powerful, crisp, clean, and classic.
To be quite honest, the song sounds like someone was tripping acid while sitting in an elevator. With the soft easy-listening components and instruments like flute, acoustic guitar and brush-style drumset playing, it’s hard to put into words ones feelings when listening to the track. I believe that rather than being able to identify motifs or understanding the track, Daft Punk is asking you to join them on their spaceship for an adventure through the unknown, to discover sights, sounds, and feelings that have yet to be discovered and yet are strangely familiar.
“Fragments of Time”
With a straightforward beat and harmonic foundation, it would have been extremely easy for Daft Punk and Todd Edwards to deliver an okay hit song that would fit in the album just fine. But the devil is in the details with this track, and these details propel the track from a simple tune to a catchy powerhouse that will leave you begging for a nice cold lemonade on the beachfront. Todd Edwards’ soft-timbre while still commanding voice eases its way onto the solid established track and provides a cushion of familiarity when juxtaposed on the sharp melodic cuts that define Edwards’ stylistic compositional approach. While clearly a homage to the west coast mentality, the track resonates with the overall feeling of vacation and summer yearning that a listener can identify with and makes it the go to song for those yearning for their summer break.
“Doin’ It Right”
The starkness and crisp percussive emphasis of this track not only make it and eccentric yet electric addition to the album, but fits perfectly with the style and musical sensibilities of Panda Bear, founding member of Animal Collective and collaborator for this song. With repetitive lyrical permutations and melodic sliding, “Doin’ It Right” takes a small musical idea and evolves it into the interesting rhythmic sound that Panda Bear is known for. While the song is catchy and melodically complex, it is also very avant-garde, and clearly sounds like newer territory for Daft Punk.
The journey has come to an end. With the introduction of an Apollo 11 sound byte discussing an unidentified flying object, a classic dance music synth melody is heard. We feel the gentle rise as the music begins increasing in volume and intensity and the spastic drums come in to drive the song to a new, more exciting horizon. Then, out of nowhere, a siren can be heard beginning to build the pressure as we feel the urge of a giant “drop” eventually coming to finish off the album, although it never does. Daft Punk takes all the high energy that they are creating and keeps driving it and pushing it; building it up until it feels as though one must let some of this suspense go. And finally, it ends. The sound drops off, and as spontaneously as the album began, so too does it finish. However, as abrupt as is the conclusion to this song, if considered a final coda in the grand scheme of the album it signifies an end to an exploration. Maybe it was eye-opening, maybe it was breathtaking. However, you can be damn sure it was groovy.
Overall the album was a pleasure to listen to and I severely admire what Daft Punk was trying to do here. As a whole the album is an amazing collection of old school sounds with a 21st century take, and that has provided us as listeners with what might be either a nostalgic trip into the past or a journey through the unknown. Either way, the diversity of the tracks as well as the catchy sounds and recognizable names helps everyone find a little something to take away. Random Access Memories is available for streaming on iTunes, and can be purchased on vinyl, CD and digital format on May 21, 2013.
[Photo/Graphic Credit: Joe Reda]