When rumours surfaced about the possibility of a new Daft Punk album, fans all over the world rejoiced and the rumour mill went into overdrive. Though it took some time for it to finally be confirmed, the levels of excitement and anticipation reached fever pitch pretty quickly and with good reason – Daft Punk (AKA Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter) are a visionary duo who have created some timeless music during the course of their career and have an approach to their craft that is almost unrivalled in today’s climate, particularly within electronic music.
Within a few weeks of their album, Random Access Memories, finally being confirmed for release via Columbia the marketing campaign had gone into overdrive – asserting a mystique which has been ever-present in Daft Punk’s work, and sending anticipation levels into the stratosphere. Their first single, Get Lucky (featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers) went to No.1 here in the UK and has become a ubiquitous hit around the globe.
Point Blank’s Marcus Barnes was one of the very fortunate few to have been invited down to Sony’s HQ in west London, where he listened to the album from beginning to end. Here’s his overview…
The album’s concept revolves around channelling the past and moulding the future. Daft Punk employed production techniques that are no longer commonplace in the studio – refusing to take shortcuts and rely on technology to do all their work for them. In doing this, they have created electronic music in a very retro manner – Nile Rodgers compared it to making ‘Future Music’, as he used to do with Chic – making music for the future because they could never be sure when their music would actually, finally be released. In effect they have gone back in time to make music for the future (i.e. for today). Because of their attention to detail, patience and perseverance, Daft Punk have created something which is already timeless and supercedes the vast majority of music that is being made at the moment. You can really hear the amount of work that has gone into this album and it’s that which will stand it in good stead for generations to come (and, of course, the great music it features!).
There’s the slow funky heartbreak-imbued love song The Game Of Love with that oh-so-familiar vocoder singing about someone leaving, ‘You decided to walk away’… Giorgio Moroder’s appearance on Giorgio By Moroder, which sees him talking about his attempts to become a musician in Germany, sleeping in his car after gigs for two years. It features a filtered bassline channelled from the seventies with a certified disco/Moroder sound. Soft keys come in halfway through leading into a breakdown and a more dramatic second half with emotive strings and stronger percussion. A guitar riff propels track to its close with more high-strings.
Chilly Gonzales lends his musical talents to the next track, Within. His piano solo kicks things off, while a sombre vocoder sings, ‘There are so many things I don’t understand’ – ‘I am lost I can’t even remember my name’. Instant Crush features Julian Casablancas, a soft robotic voice works to create simmering emotion. A standard rock ballad-esque guitar keeps the energy flowing and leads into a huge ballad riff for the chorus.
Lose Yourself To Dance is the second track to feature Pharrell Williams, who sets it off with a typically high-pitched “Lose Yourself To Dance!” chorus. A perfect accompaniment to Get Lucky with Nile Rodgers and Daft Punk robot voice layered over the top with a repeated ‘Come on, come on, come on, come on’. Track 7 is Touch, which works as a perfect centerpiece for the album and has Paul Williams written all over it. A warped voice: “I remember touch, I need something more in my mind” – Williams’ delicate, slightly faltering voice adds a real human element. A wah wah guitar sets it off, with jovial instrumental, trumpets, strings, jaunty keys and bass. The track is pretty epic, working across several chapters, with breakdowns, “Hold on if love is the answer you want” – launches into second half with frenetic violins, bubbling bleeps… which lead into a smooth close and a child choir singing same “Hold on…”. Mental, and amazing.
Get Lucky is track 8, and one which we are all already familiar with. Next up is Beyond, a track which really brings disco into the modern age – Orchestral strings open up the track, launching into some robotic funk – well, funk with Daft Punk’s signature robot voice on the top. Yep, the vocoder drops in again, but we all love it don’t we!
Motherboard is smooth and airy, with a really strong live feel throughout – of course, the whole album was recorded with live instrumentation, but this has a particularly raw feel to it. There’s a switch in pace towards the end, tough tribal drums pop in for a bit then disappear leaving a new segment to blossom, ethereal and trippy, before the drums return. Bliss. Fragments Of Time features the vocals of garage legend, Todd Edwards – though none of his expert cut-up skills. Still, it’s a bright summer jam, with cool smooth vocals and a overall country feel to it. Todd sings, ‘I’ll just keep playing back these fragments of time, everywhere that I go these moments will shine’.
On Doin’ It Right, Panda Bear’s voice is layered with the robots. This is a far more modern sounding, minimal/bassy track… Very simple, and a lot more 21st Century than the rest of the album. A definite standout, along with Touch.
The album’s closing track, ‘Contact’ feat DJ Falcon, is another epic piece of music. It opens with the faltered crackling voice of an astronaut, working into a big build up with an electric guitar and unsurprising ‘closing of album’ type percussion… cymbals crashing and the like. Fuzzy effects distort everything as it leads into more percussion. Everything builds and builds into a huge breakdown, supported by repeated guitar riff, increasingly high screeching sound. There’s a halt and one layer of bass rises while the sub bass rumbles, building into a crescendo after which point everything falls apart as though the studio has crashed. Intense and amazing.
This is an album that really needs more than one listen to truly appreciate the craftsmanship and dedication to quality of sound that has gone into it. These guys are serious about their art, and you can hear that in their compositions – the notion of travelling back to the past to record music for the future is completely understandable and an admirable pursuit. I have no doubts that the album will go down well with young and old alike and, hopefully, inspire a new generation of musicians to invest more time and energy into producing musical works of art.