For this review, I’m traveling slightly outside of my comfort zone. Daft Punk is somewhat unique among bands I listen to, because while I’ve been known to dabble in electronica/dance music (like The Crystal Method, for instance), I’m not a hard-core fan of it. It’s more change-of-pace music for me. But I’d still like to give my impressions of Daft Punk’s latest album, Random Access Memories.
Random Access Memories is Daft Punk’s most commercially successful album to date, and it’s easy to see why. Their past albums were much more firmly entrenched in the dance music world, with songs like “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster Stronger” chucking mainstream song structure out the window. This album has more songs that at least somewhat follow the verse/chorus format. It’s a good album to start getting into Daft Punk if you’re not familiar with them. Catchy songs like the single “Get Lucky,” and “Lose Yourself to Dance,” feature producer and rapper Pharrell Williams departing from his usual style and singing more like an R&B artist. The latter song has a retro feel, almost like it could appear on an album from a group like Kool & the Gang. Daft Punk also sings on the track, and their vocoder-altered voices blend with Williams’s well, and interact in an interesting way throughout the track.
That’s not to say Daft Punk has “sold out” or anything, though. There are plenty of good tracks on this album that do not fit the conventional mold. “Touch” is probably the best example of this, a psychedelic trance of a track that features venerable songwriter Paul Williams. There are several abrupt shifts in texture and tone in this song, where Williams’s voice sounds like an alien calling out from a cave, then suddenly sounds normal, which then transitions into a “wall of sound” feel with a score of different instruments. Another unconventional track is “Giorgio by Moroder,” which features a spoken part where Italian record producer of the same name talks about his early career and his attempts to free himself from what the music world considers “correct.” This is perhaps an anthem for Daft Punk’s career.
Daft Punk not only frees themselves of the bounds of song structure on this album, but also of genre. There are shades of many different genres of music on this album. The Pharrell songs I mentioned above are probably the poppiest songs. “Beyond” has an orchestral overture followed by a melody that has a certain transcendentalism in the style of John Lennon’s hit “Imagine.” “Give Life Back to Music” features a guitar motive that could fit in a rock song, and “Giorgio by Moroder” has a jazzier section that reminds me of Herbie Hancock’s early work (incidentally, Hancock’s later song “Chameleon” is the common ancestor of pretty much all modern electronica & dance).
Despite its largely minimalist approach, Random Access Memories also features some interesting lyrical moments. Probably the two most interesting are “Fragments of Time,” and “Contact.” “Fragments of Time” is among the album’s easier listens, and the main character in the song talks about not wanting to leave a certain place. Since he has to, he carries the “random memories” of this place with him and constantly plays them back in his head when he misses it. The song made me think of a computer’s Random Access Memory (RAM), which the album title alludes to. RAM is computer memory designed to be written to and recalled quickly, so that a computer can open programs and files without the user having to wait a long time. The way that the character in this song talks about keeping his memories at easy access in his head relates to this concept, and ties the album together. Also mentioned in the lyrics are a “gold and silver dream,” which you can see evoked in the album art.
“Contact” features another spoken part which describes astronauts spotting an unidentified object in space. In the second half of the song, a high-pitched squeal and distorted sounds come in and out, which resemble the detection of a radio signal of an unknown source. It, like many other songs on the album, comes to an abrupt halt at the end. The song and lyrics combine to create an interesting reflection whether or not humans are alone in space.
Overall, Random Access Memories is a good addition to Daft Punk’s superb collection of music, and I’d advise you to buy it. While the album drags somewhat in spots, it holds the listener’s attention well for the majority of the album. The songs stand out well on their own, and create a cohesive album & listening experience. If you’re already a Daft Punk fan, it may seem a little different and a little poppier than what you’re used to, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try. And if you’ve never listened to them, now is your chance to start.
Here are my track picks:
Fragments of Time (ft. Todd Edwards):
I feel lame saying this, but my favorite track on this album is probably the most conventional one, but I love the lyrics, so it’s a winner.
Lose Yourself to Dance (ft. Pharrell Williams):
This video perfectly captures the retro feel of this track, editing it into footage from the show Soul Train.
Give Life Back to Music:
I was originally going to pick the other track with Williams, but I wanted to go in a slightly different direction. The rock fan in me loves the guitar licks on this one.