Daft Punk – ‘Random Access Memories’ review

It’s extremely arcane that you’d hear an album you haven’t heard before, or a certain reworking of previous sounds. Furthermore it’s almost aberrant to listen to a new album that makes you smile on the first listen. Modern music is extremely recherché; too much production, too little focus on the vocal, too much sh*t to tell you the honest truth. Like an awkward night out with friends, you know who’s going to be sick and you know who’s going to be the last one standing. Yet this isn’t.

It’s one of those nights; you wake up the next day thinking “what the f*ck happened?” That’s kind of how this new album sounds on it’s first listen; like some kind of time travel in to a disco-funk fuelled echelon from another cosmos correlatively psychologically manipulating your fervent little mind. Yes, I mean jazzy interludes, ballads, a West End moment, low BPMs. Is this Daft Punk? No wonder why they called it Random Access Memories.

Now this album challenges your musical tastes; it’s tinged with curiosity and ambiguity that rouse prodigious thoughts, overriding its criticism by plain and simply being out there. It’s a juxtaposition that probes and re-imagines the sounds of yesterday with one ear towards tomorrow. Yet, after a career spanning twenty years you’d expect something afresh from the Robots. A list of pulsating collaborators the length of Thurston’s Moore’s arm casts aspersions; nevertheless Random Access Memories is their best yet: a fortuitous and undefinable masterpiece you can’t imagine coming from anyone else but Thomas Banglater and Guy-Manual de Homem-Christo (yes it’s a mouthful but that’s his real name). Or as you and I know them: Daft Punk.

Random Access Memories is chaotic. It’s less of a dance music album and more of a throwback and a salute to genres that they have interpreted and adduced as their own. Opener Give Live Back To Music does exactly what the title dares it do; it sees the first glimpses of the shift from electronic to the ‘real’. Whilst nicely warming you up for more, it’s decorated with scratching disco guitar courtesy of Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers, with them acknowledging through vocodered lyrics that people deserve better than just samey and indistinguishable dance music. The next tracks confirm that this album is deeply entrenched within musical nostalgia.

The Game of Love is a robo-soul jazzy-jam ballad tinged with the RAM formula – massive drums, sharp guitar and those vocals that are befittingly present in a down-tempo prose that wouldn’t go amiss against a Miami sunset. “And I just wanted you to say” is probably the first time you will ever feel emotional whilst listening to a Daft Punk record. Giorgio by Moroder is something of a different concept altogether. It’s a nine-minute history lesson from the producer that gave us Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. Slowly but surely, it’s wandering disco beat lies down as the perfect backdrop for his tales of starting out as a producer and “decided on using a synthesiser because that is the sound of the future”. Once he mentions the “click”, then we’re in business. Classic Moroder; the synth line kicks in and jams are pumped. A highlight of the album.

Touch, which features songwriter-actor Paul Williams, is haunting; a digitalised, big band hymn that crystallises the robot-as-human psyche we’re rather willingly dragged in to. Beyond is more melancholic.

Another collaborator, and probably the most adventurous of them all, The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas’s rapid lyrics on Instant Crush is more pop-friendly than trippy robo-soul, but it works. Then up pops Pharrell. Laying his vocals on Lose Yourself To Dance, we’re slapped with a rumbling bassline before Pharrell’s grooving falsetto gives the nod to the disco era, with Rodgers again doing the deed on the axe. The other song that features the dream team of Pharrell and Rodgers doesn’t need introducing, its already the sound of the summer.

Closing out the album sees a Todd Edwards contribution on Fragments Of Time; delivering another downplayed but impetuous vocal performance immediately followed by the opiate, vocode psalm of Animal Collective’s Panda Bear on the dubby, low-slung hedonistic Doin’ It Right.

This maybe their first record in eight years, but the theme strictly remains the same. Historically, each album’s theme is set by the dedicated title; leaving you to ponder what is to be subtracted from the ‘random’ selection of ‘memories’? It’s as emotionally honest as Daft Punk has dared to be.

I wouldn’t be able to break the Internet by posting a picture of my cycling helmet, but Daft Punk have become as relevant as two masked men can be. Random Access Memories is a challenge – a heretic experiment that threatens those who dare to imitate.

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