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Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (2013)

 
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Posted May 21, 2013 by

Electronic music duo Daft Punk release one of the year’s most anticipated albums in Random Access Memories, their fourth full-length and first since 2005’s Human After All. The duo are noted for their patience between releases, and hearing the vastness that is Random Access Memories makes that approach entirely understandable. This is a jam-packed, 74-minute album that will have Daft Punk fans salivating. While some production choices and uses of collaboration are spotty, there are moments on Random Access Memories that show the French electronic duo at their absolute best, like on the cathedral-sized “Touch” and several tracks in the second half that promote an eerily spacey feel. It may be a lot to swallow at first, but once digested Random Access Memories is one of the year’s most memorable electronic releases.

With loudly pulsating ‘80s-inspired guitar blasts and a funk-tinged rhythmic backing, “Give Life Back to Music” jump-starts Random Access Memories toward instantly infectious territory, as Daft Punk have a tendency of doing with openers. This is an album opener full of danceable rhythms and a repeating vocoded catch phrase, per usual. It’s not an effort with much structural advancement, but there’s plenty to cherish in the initial idea alone; this is Daft Punk comfort food, something entirely expected but satiating nonetheless. The funk rhythms and crowd-like party ambience toward the end provides just the amount of variation necessary to jump into the subsequent effort, the more retrospective “The Game of Love”. With chilled-out twinkling shifting hazily over a robotically melancholic lead, it’s in sharp contrast to “Give Life Back to Music” in tonal direction. Still, it’s a fitting one-two punch that reminds fans of Daft Punk’s diverse touch.

While the album starts out pleasant enough with “Give Life Back to Music” and “The Game of Love”, the next few tracks on Random Access Memories make some questionable production choices. The vocoder on “Within” gradually becomes grating, with the poppy fluctuations hardly justification for the tired production choice. With slight piano alterations, the initial verse repeats with minimal impact. Chilly Gonzales’ piano melodies are pleasant, but it’s not enough to carry the track. “Within” begins a section of tracks in the key of B-flat minor, but its introduction to a key is no excuse for weak execution. “Within” is followed by another high-profile collaboration in “Instant Crush”, which features The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas on vocals. It sounds more like Casablancas’ solo work than a Daft Punk collaboration, yet manages to successfully incorporate vocoded synth-pop effects with a slick garage-rock whimsy to result in an engaging sound. The same can be said for “Touch”, which transforms from a Paul Williams standalone to one of Daft Punk’s greatest epics.

“Touch” initially drags slightly as Paul Williams’ vocals aren’t served by much of an accompaniment, but the energetic burst of excitement just past the three-minute mark lifts it into dizzying heights. “Touch” takes awhile to get started, but once it does it blasts until a cathedral of sound that marks one of the best moments on Random Access Memories. It’s a collaborative experience that is very inspired, in the middle of an album where the collaborative efforts are a mixed bag. Some sound phoned in, like the Panda Bear add-on “Doin’ It Right”, which makes over-use of a repetitive vocoder lead, much like “Within”. Panda Bear’s vocal lead adds nothing at all, and it all seems very novelty. “Giorgio By Moroder” is novelty as well with its spoken-word sample stroking the concept of a synthesizer, but Daft Punk follow it up with seven minutes of exciting minimalist-inspired electro that recalls their early works. If they plan to incorporate collaborations just for attention, Daft Punk should go a route more akin to “Instant Crush” and “Giorgio By Moroder”, and not the dull “Doin’ It Right”.

Pharrell Williams has the pleasure of appearing on two tracks here, one a dismal confusion and the other an infectious gem. It’s a perplexing mixture, to say the least. The disco-tinged funk of “Lose Yourself to Dance” is cheesy, plain and simple. Even an ascending vocoder sample can’t save the cumbersome guitar licks and title-referencing vocal lead. Daft Punk show off their innate ability to implement robotic vocal samples toward the conclusion of “Lose Yourself to Dance”, but it serves as a technical demonstration more than an actual song. Williams’ chops are better utilized on the scratchy funk-tinged “Get Lucky”, which recalls neon-lit soul and funk in delectable fashion. Alongside “Touch”, it’s one of the best on Random Access Memories.

Excluding the Panda Bear collaboration, the second half of the album deserves plenty of praise.  “Touch” and “Get Lucky” are wonderful epics, but a very spacey section of the album begins with “Beyond”. Along with “Motherboard” and “Contact”, Daft Punk show a truly unique atmospheric touch that meshes futurism and the unknowns of space, the latter particularly evident on the stimulating closer “Contact”. “Motherboard” is a stunner that develops an ominous sci-fi atmosphere through nocturnal acoustic guitar trickles, hypnotic woodwind samples, and a gargling bass lead. The whirring synth arpeggios present throughout the second half promote tranquility and the unknown rather than the urgency felt throughout the first half. This is a tactfully patient section of the album that closes it in grand fashion; it seals an album with a multitude of stunning moments, with several showing Daft Punk at their best. Although occasionally weighed down by excess collaborations and vocoded dependence, Random Access Memories is a success that balances idiosyncratic sampling and natural instrumentation with the utmost brilliance.

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Mike Mineo

 
I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to mike@obscuresound.com.


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