By Ryan, contributing writer
Random Access Memories is the fourth studio album by electronic music legends Daft Punk. I wouldn’t call this a return because they did the soundtrack to the movie “Tron: Legacy”, but I wouldn’t call it a follow-up to anything either. Their last studio album was Human After All released in 2005. In Random Access Memories, thirteen tracks pick you up and envelop you in their funkadelic goodness.
Funky. That’s the word I’d use to describe this album. Not in a “How long have these socks been in my duffel bag?” kind of way, mind you. It’s a good kind of funk. Imagine that you’re having a party in your backyard in the middle of the summer. The sun’s starting to trail down toward the horizon, you and your friends are having a few frosty beers, you’re all shooting the shit, and you’re having a good time before you hop in the car (a sober friend driving, of course, because drinking and driving is bad). You head to a bar, you happen to meet a nice person, and you both go back to your place. Things get steamy but not too quickly. It’s that kind of album. (If you couldn’t tell, I’m a very visual person. Another thing that this album reminds me of is a pure blackness with bright technicolor paint splashes and dots appearing and disappearing on its surface. But, that’s another conversation entirely.)
The first few tracks are very mellow, but play around with some catchy little synth melodies. However, once you hit Giorgio by Moroder things start to pick up a little more. Giorgio by Moroder teases you with what you know Daft Punk is capable of. The vocoder altered vocals in the following tracks tell stories of heartache and losing the one you love. It adds a personal touch to the music. It’s a shade of melancholy that makes me think that they’re writing about the reality and aftermath of what happens in Digital Love (a track on their album Discovery).
The one thing that sets this album apart from their other work is that there’s a heavy use of guitars. It’s not something that is unknown to the Daft Punk boys, but they feature it in this album in a way that they haven’t done previously. Nile Rodgers is the guitarist on Give Life Back to Music, Lose Yourself to Dance, and Get Lucky. He really shows off his style of play in this album. It’s the major binding factor. His guitar work is the funky glue that brings the tracks together as a collection of similar, but very different pieces of music. In addition to Rodgers’ contributions, Pharrell Williams adds his vocal stylings to the mix. His voice was made for this album. His higher pitched R&B style gives this album an extra energetic nudge. It’s not an overwhelming sensation, but his voice is the vocal equivalent of your friends taking you by the shoulders and moving you to the music to try and coax a smile out of you.
Touch is a track that reminds you that the men that make up Daft Punk are men behind masks and gloves. They regularly sing about love and being attracted to people, but they are inside robot bodies. I wouldn’t say that they’re stuck, but they are definitely not elated about being in those bodies. This is where we get into some tricky stuff. On one hand, it could be that these guys are just making music and having a good time while they make music. On the other hand, there could be a deeper meaning behind their flashing masks. Maybe they want to tell us that we’re all robots seeking some human interaction. Maybe they’re just talking about themselves and their personal experiences. Maybe they’re talking about people with social issues and problems opening up to people. Maybe they’re talking about people like me who haven’t even kissed someone in over a year (yes, a very sad glimpse into the life of the writer). Maybe (and, this is the most plausible explanation) I’m looking way too far into this song.
I’m not even going to go too much into the single from this album, Get Lucky. It’s a great tune with vocals by Pharrell. It’s about having a good time and gettin’ it on. It’s catchy. If you really want an in depth look into this track, look at any other review of this album.
In Motherboard, you get some classic Daft Punk action with the long, flowy synth lines played, but the difference is that they’re being played over gentle cuts instead of a drum track. Fragment in Time sounds like a theme song of a 1970s tv show, but a little less poppy and energetic than you’d probably hear. It flirts with the feeling of being completely happy. That track is more content than outright joyous. Contact is the closing credit track (if this was a soundtrack). The protagonist is walking home from a night at the disco and, oddly, feeling good about themselves. It’s a much more energetic track than many featured on this album. You can attribute that to the much quicker and hectic drum lines and cuts. Tagged onto the end of this album is Love Won’t Let Me Wait by Onderwish. It’s a nice little track that’s so muffled you’d think it was recorded outside of the club that our protagonist just left.
All said and done, this album’s got a major disco thing going on which can be tracked back to the influence of Giorgio Moroder (a major disco producer). That disco feel is brought alive in this 2013 album by modern artists, the most well-known of which is probably Pharrell. Even though it’s an album tied very well together with the common thread of disco, it’s still got enough variety in it to keep you listening. From the Frenchmen, another wonderful album is brought into the world and thrust into our earholes. These tracks will provide the perfect accompaniment to your afternoon party in the backyard, a car-ride to a club, or a private dance party between you and your significant other (my former sous-chef would call a lot of these tracks “baby makers”). But, I think this album would be most appropriately used as a personal soundtrack for someone who spends lot of time walking around the darker parts of Tokyo or Paris, just outside of the splashes of neon. Daft Punk have done the same in relation to their previous work with this album. They’re not in the exact same exhilarating places, but they’re very close and content with where they are. They’re opening up (maybe even discovering) new things about their musical identities and that makes me a happy boy.