Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Release Date - May 21, 2013
Record Label - Columbia Records
Today is a pretty fucking stellar day. The new Daft Punk comes out today. Think about it like this: the first time that you spin that record, or stream it, or pop the tape in (have to make one yourself), you're probably doing the coolest thing in the world. Yeah. You. It's one of those awesome things that music can do--one minute you're chowing down on a meatball sandwich and maybe even spilling a little marinara on your shirt, the next, you pop in that earbud and become the coolest cat around. I mean Willie Colon cool.
Now, look, I know there's already been a fair amount of coverage on this album. And when you're in a blogger's position, covering a record that everybody else is covering, there's only a couple different paths that you can take to make your review memorable. First, you can claim to be a fan for longer than anyone else, and thus crowbar your way into a fake über-fandom which makes your opinion unassailable. Second, you can just be smarter than everyone else. Third, you can come at an album a way that people hadn't thought of before. While we pride ourselves at the WLFY offices about always bringing #2, this time, I'm going to have to admit to you that I'm not sure that there's a whole lot of smart things left to be added to the discussion of Daft Punk. Around the year 2000, when everyone was doing these retrospectives about where human culture had been, Bob Dylan was proclaimed the artist of the century or something crazy like that and in Time, or wherever this was, they gave a pro and con argument to this position. I forget the pro argument (it was probably something along the lines of "It's Bob-fucking-Dylan, man!"), but the con argument I remember: "there is more poetry in the opening harmonies of the Temptations, the Pointer Sisters, and every Motown group ever than there is in all the gobbledy-gook poetry of Bob Dylan." It's still a salient argument and one that we tend to overlook (esp. those as lyric-focused as I am): music evinces. And, I might add, it's an argument for a record (or against one) that blogs are terrible with. Music blogs can't hope to capture sheer musical beauty. As the saying goes "writing about music is like dancing about architecture," or so says Martin Mull(?!?). Thus, we tend to shy away from that inexpressible joy which seems to overtake us, which can't be formulated and recalled in pithy language. We tend to forget, that is, the pure joy that can erupt from a particular record.
This is the joy that overtakes in Random Access Memories. It's hard to think of a more impressive opening to an album than the opening three tracks: "Give Life to Music," "The Game of Love," and "Giorgio by Moroder." The latter-most is a tour de force homage to the great dance producer Giorgio Moroder, complete with archival interview. For all the styles which get referenced on the record, from the straight ahead funk of "Get Lucky" to the free jazz in "Within," Daft Punk never strays far from its blissfully retro-funk sound even while recruiting collabs from artists as disparate as Panda Bear, Julian Casablancas, and Pharrell Williams. But, back to "Give Life to Music" the steady-building opener which sets the tone for the record. While previous Daft Punk records would have pushed the overdrive on this track, the soaring intro to the song pops into an addictive groove. For all the electronics and effects, this groove seems to be the thing that does what the song's title suggests. It's the sort of track that you can't help but move to and as the intro reprises, punctuated by an impeccably placed piano line, it's the groove that you're wanting to reemerge.
Yes, this album is all over the place. But, then again, so is Daft Punk's seminal Discovery. And as any acute listener will hear, there's this fantastic existential dilemma which pervades the record (as it seems to do on every Daft Punk album) -- in this case it's about, you guessed it, memory. They say that the singularity is the point where technology and human biology will meet and amass into some sort of possible liberation (or doomsday), but Daft Punk's robotic personas are more apt to be used to comment on their humanity offering huge questions in a mechanical voice as on "Within" -- "There's a world within me that I cannot comprehend." Random Access Memories is a self-described attempt to equate memory to a hard drive and the past seems to return and return in this record not only as lyrical content (the archival interview with Moroder is the best example) but as a way of understanding the future. For all the record's retro feel, it's as much about where we are going as it is about where we have been. Given that computers have become, in essence, personal libraries of seemingly infinite amounts of culture, Daft Punk's access of the past 8 years (since their last record) is a jubilant, funky, and almost sentimental response to our lack of control over the past and memory. Though funk, the modus operandi of the album's music, is about structure, it's also equally about the losing of yourself, the Dionysian urge. As Pharrell seems to command: "Lose yourself to dance."
How do you talk about not being in control? How do you dance to your memory?
We, bloggers, tend to deconstruct, to contextualize, to examine and tell you why something is good instead of saying what happens too much -- just fucking dance to it. Marinara stain and all, just get up to dance. Because you can spend your entire life trying to figure out why you don't know, or accept that you can't know, probably won't know, and just get on down. And, like I said, if you listen to Daft Punk today, you're embarking on something with a giant community of us who are collected for the sole purpose of joy for the robots who are back and the humans who get down with them.