Random Access Memories

Daft Punk

Columbia Records, 2013


REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


Daft Punk’s most recent album Human After All was released in 2005, which was eight years ago this past March. As a brief refresher, here are some of the more important events from that year: George W. Bush was inaugurated for his second term, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, and a certain video sharing website called YouTube was founded.

Suffice it to say, a lot has changed since Daft Punk last graced the music world with an album of original material. In that year of 2005, it was Mariah Carey and 50 Cent who had the two most successful albums from a sales standpoint, but titles such as American Idiot, X&Y, and Genius Loves Company should sound familiar as well. These all were the sounds of 2005 (which illustrates this reviewer’s belief that there was no dominant genre of the Naughts).

Daft Punk themselves managed to stay in the public consciousness in the time since Human After All, whether they were featured in iPod ads, getting sampled in Kanye West hits, or scoring the soundtracks to major motion pictures. Their previous albums grew in stature as time passed, while the genre they helped to popularize grew as well. Electronic Dance Music (hence forward called EDM) has become a tentpole of the modern pop scene; you hear elements of it in some of the biggest hits of the day. Artists such as Calvin Harris and Skrillex, while not yet household names, certainly are receiving more exposure than they would have five years ago.

Daft Punk has described how they began to toss around the idea of new music in 2008 after the recording of the Tron soundtrack. And so, as news about a potential Daft Punk album began to leak, the expectations began to grow for whatever was to come. Guest artists were revealed, media campaigns were mounted, and tiny morsels were sent out into the world, but nothing that really indicated just what Random Access Memories was going to be.

Random Access Memories simply exudes the sounds of the late ‘70s (thanks, K Billy) from start to finish – a time when musicians were first starting to realize the potential that vocoders, drum machines, and synthesizers had on a large scale. Records at the time weren’t drenched in those sounds but used them to provide texture and context. The clean, studio driven albums of the Alan Parson’s Project are represented in tracks like “Instant Crush” or “Beyond,” which could have been wrestled straight from my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Eye In The Sky or The Turn Of A Friendly Card. “Fragments Of Time” and “Lose Yourself To Dance” delve deep into pop, R&B, and funk; I half expected to hear either Hall or Oates come out of my speakers on the former. The lead single “Get Lucky” could have easily just as been a huge hit in 1978 on the dance floor as it could be in 2013.

Special note must be given to the final two tracks of Random Access Memories, which come the closest to the “sound” that one would expect from Daft Punk. “Doin’ It Right” is a vocoder-drenched track (featuring Panda Bear) that would have fit well on Human After All. “Contact” takes the elements that made this album so special and builds and builds upon itself, adding layer upon layer until it reaches a screaming climax filled with the squeals and beeps and gurglings of all that you’ve heard up to this point in a glorious wall of sound before

When you look over the liner notes for Random Access Memories, there are names such as Niles Rodgers, Paul Williams, and Giorgio Moroder, men who just immediately conjure up images of the era. Moroder himself is selected to provide a series of vignettes for “Giorgio By Moroder” that recall his story of how he came to prominence. Yet Daft Punk does maintain links to the present: Julian Casablancas of The Strokes fame, Panda Bear of the Animal Collective and Pharrell Williams all contribute to the album. To Daft Punk’s credit, the outstanding series of guest musicians and singers never grabs the attention away from the music. Their skills are utilized for express purposes and they accomplish those.

It is incredibly hard to create an album that is both precise and warm. One usually necessitates the lack of another. Precision is a great quality to have, but in the pursuit of it a piece of music can lose its soul (see Steely Dan). The best records are the ones that don’t sound like a mathematical equation, where elements were thrown together in a formula to result in x. Daft Punk made the incredibly prescient decision to record Random Access Memories with more live instrumentation than any of their previous records. Bangalter stated in an interview with Rolling Stone that they “wanted to do what we used to do with machines and samplers...but with people.” Whereas on prior albums, Daft Punk had modern technology to play with the music as they saw fit, Random Access Memories finds them taking that same concept with studio musicians and executing it to perfection.

It would not have been inconceivable to have assumed that Random Access Memories would look to the future of the EDM genre, or at the very least continue modifying Daft Punk’s roots in house in a new fashion. Human After All was a decidedly mixed bag, but also a record of its time. Prior to that, Discovery definitely displayed the group’s affinity for the ‘70s, but it would be looking backwards to return to that style wouldn’t it? As it turns out, Daft Punk had their eyes firmly planted in the past and have created a masterful 1970s disco/rock record for the world of 2013, as well as a candidate for the album of the year.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A



© 2013 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.