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June 7, 2013 | by  | in Arts Music |
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Random Access Memories – Daft Punk

Random Access Memories is an album which eschews current electronic music, something which can be traced back to the band’s origins—excuse the brief reductionist history which follows. Daft Punk were the cornerstone of the French house genre’s heyday through the late-‘90s and early-2000s. As this movement waned, the electronic focal point shifted across the Channel: South London housing estates sapped the fun from electronic music with grimy jungle and D’n’B melds, and dubstep was born. As the genre moved to the mainstream and crossed the Atlantic, a fetishism for the sick drops and dirty bass emerged. The breakbeats and glitchcore at the heart of dubstep became so artificial, often so far removed from the heart and soul evident in earlier electronic music.

Cue Random Access Memories. The album was recorded using session musicians, and live drums. The guitars you hear are actual guitars, the basslines actual bass guitars, et cetera. Everything feels real enough to touch; there’s a lush depth to each track, and funk in outrageously potent doses. The album’s opening track makes no secret of the impending sea-change: it’s called ‘Give Life Back to Music’, an unashamed dig at the status quo.

Track three, ‘Giorgio by Moroder’, features the voice of Giorgio Moroder, a disco legend famous both for creating an album entirely with synthesisers, and for using unusual recording processes to create sounds in new ways. Giorgio goes on to state, “once you free your mind about a concept of harmony and of music being correct, you can do whatever you want”. The beat hangs, as we ride an orchestral interlude—real violins, of course—before the beat drops again, and we realise: Daft Punk can do whatever they want.

The symbolism here is manifest, and the boundaries are crossed both at the end of ‘Giorgio by Moroder’ by way of a prog-rock climax, and through the rest of the album. Next up comes the introspective piano-based ballad ‘Within’, The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas featuring on a reasonably Strokes-esque number called ‘Instant Crush’, and then two tracks with Pharrell (‘Lose Yourself To Dance’ and the ubiquitous ‘Get Lucky’) which sandwich ‘60s-diner-style ‘Touch’. It sounds absurd, and it is. But, it works.

Before six-minute epic ‘Contact’, which closes the album in a headrush of excitement and energy, comes the album’s high-point ‘Doin’ It Right’. The song features Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, and is four beautiful, beautiful minutes of ecstasy. It’s no accident that the human (non-vocodered) voices on the album are those which exemplify the happiness of the human condition; the real emphasised over the artificial. In other words: giving life back to music.

Daft Punk have reached the point where they can subvert genre norms, and they’ve executed it perfectly. It’s not a hard case to make for Daft Punk to be considered the planet’s pre-eminent dance musicians. The most telling line of the album is the line you’re likely to have heard the most, and provides a fitting summary of Random Access Memories vis-à-vis Daft Punk:

“We’ve come too far to give up who we are, so let’s raise the bar and our cups to the stars”.

5/5

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