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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mark’s Pick of the Week: Random Access Memories by Daft Punk

            I recently tried to explain how important Daft Punk is to someone who had never heard them, how they have been one of the flagship EDM artists since their debuted in the 90’s, how they add a much-needed layer of intelligence to the genre, and how countless artists have used their music or production expertise to make some fantastic music.  They understood where I was coming from, but at the same time they just looked like two robots pressing buttons on stage.  How much music could they actually be making?  However, I think that touches on the most important aspect Daft Punk brings to the table: anonymity.  They don’t want you to look at them.  They just want you to dance.
            It has been about 8 years since Human After All, Daft Punk’s last contribution to their impeccable discography.  Since then we’ve had the live album Alive 2007 and that soundtrack I don’t want to talk about.  So these guys have had a lot of time to regroup, and the anticipation is somewhere in the neighborhood of astronomical.  Did they live up to these guys live up to these expectations?  Not exactly, but in the best way possible.
            If you picked up one of Daft Punk’s first 3 albums you would get a taste of what EDM was about to do.  These guys were defiantly ahead of the curve, and so each album was a preview of what other great music was about to come out in the genre.  In this album instead of looking forward these guys took a 180, and set their gaze square in the late 70’s and 80’s.  The songs are less EDM and more disco, funk, and proto-pop.  However, even when these guys are looking backwards they can’t help but keep moving forward.  The album is not quite from yesterday or today, but instead floats in the ether in-between so people on either side can enjoy it.
            Another big departure for these guys was the total lack of samples in this album.  They also limited the electronic instruments used to drum machines, synthesizers, and vocoders.  Because of this we get to see that these guys are just as talented at performing music as they are producing it.  Everything you hear in this album was recorded for the album, and these guys spared no expense.  They brought in a slew of famous and influential artists including Panda Bear, Nile Rodgers (of Chic), Julian Casablancas (of The Strokes) and Pharrell Williams.  Each contribution is starkly different, and adds a dynamic variation that keeps you dancing throughout.
            As far as individual tracks go there are certainly some standouts. However, if you’re listening to a Daft Punk album for it’s singles I would recommend you reconsider.  These guys have constructed an album with its peaks and crests for you to enjoy in its entirety.  Like one big party, there isn’t just one speed.  There are twist, turns and changes, and the only thing you can do is just keep moving.
            So this might have not been the EDM album I was expecting, but Draft Punk didn’t promise it would be.  All they promised is a good album you can dance to, and they delivered.  Instead of sticking with what works these guys push the boundaries in a genre where “staying the course” might not get you critical acclaim, but can pretty much guarantee a paycheck.  These aren’t trying to be cool or make what they do cool.  They just do what they do, and what do you know, it just happens to be super cool.  I would recommend this album to anyone expect those people who outlawed dancing in “Footloose.”

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