Random Access Memories
In music and life, Daft Punk have fused technology with flesh and blood. The French pair, who put house music on the mainstream map in the early ’90s, have a vision that brings humanity into a robotic future. Hiding their faces behind space helmets, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter have disappeared into their robot-inhabited world. They are a living, breathing mythology.
Greeted with the mammoth expectations that influential pair have come to warrant, their fourth studio record, Random Access Memories, is a sweeping vision. Epic in scale (the record reportedly cost Sony $1 million), the album has the spine-tingling grandeur of all great science fiction. It’s hypnotic, trance-inducing, electrified and moving. Slow funk jams entwine with futuristic synths and samples. Random Access Memories is at once artificial and intelligent.
Not everyone understands dance music – and there’s no shame in that. When I first saw the music video for Daft Punk’s hit single ‘Around The World’ on Rage, I was infuriated. I liked Deep Purple and Focus. ‘Around The World’ was repetitive. It was nonsense. Why would anyone listen to such garbage?
Now, as a 29-year-old, I recognise the genius of ‘Around The World’. It helps to be aware of the club scene. It helps to be aware of drugs. But even in the absence of those elements, a listener can still engage with the rhythmic, visceral and primal soundscapes of Daft Punk’s music. Because the helmeted duo know something about exposing the subconscious. They know that their music is on a universal wavelength that transcends race, language and culture. ‘Around The World’ was – and still is – a simple statement of intent. On Random Access Memories, they push their sonic boundaries further than ever before but also maintain their distilled subject matter concerning the human experience.
Random Access Memories is at once artificial and intelligent.
Random Access Memories is a vibrant, sparkling miasma of anachronisms. The past and the future glimmer together in the same constellation. Where Daft Punk’s first three records were focused on the discoteques of the future, this fourth release cycles back to include more organic inclusions of funk, underground jazz and movie musicals. It’s an idea of the future that was shared by Philip K. Dick and his masterful contemporaries – kitsch, romantic technologies grounded in retro chic.
Random Access Memories opens with big drums and building synths before dropping down into a disco-funk groove. It’s interstellar. It’s smooth. It’s irresistible. A robot voice immediately suggests that you “let the music in tonight, just turn on the music, let the music of your life give life back to music.” It’s a seductive invitation. Especially when, on a later track, Pharrell Williams asks that you “lose yourself to dance”. Daft Punk’s most widely loved songs generally have a blazing ethos of jubilation and euphoria. Life is short, so love each other and party. On the first single from Random Access Memories, ‘Get Lucky’, Williams returns to set the scene: “we’re up all night ’til the sun, we’re up all night to get some, we’re up all night for good fun, we’re up all night to get lucky.” The song’s lyrics are hedonistic, hopeful and innocent.
Another guest Williams – Paul Hamilton Williams Jr – is enlisted for the stellar space musical number “Touch’. Williams’ delivery evokes the warm sentimentality of some of his other legendary compositions (like Kermit The Frog’s ‘Rainbow Connection’) and, when morphed with Daft Punk’s electronic-funk utopia, becomes a whimsical, cinematic and uplifting experience.
But Daft Punk’s latest effort is not just about visceral and orgasmic, good-vibe explosions. ”The Game Of Love’ is a slinking, melancholic dream sequence. ‘Giorgio by Morodor’ pays homage to the great Italian electronic disco-innovator Giorgio Moroder, with an audio sample of an interview with him before expanding into a furious drum-heavy tornado. Scratched vinyl gyrates above a building tsunami of frantic drums, electric guitar solos, creeping synthesisers and funk bass.
‘Within’ is a serene moment of beauty – more yearning robot pain: “Please tell me who I am…” ‘Fragments of Time’ is a summery Steely Dan-esque groove, while ‘Doin’ It Right’ is a slow Calypso-pop moment of calm before Random Access Memories‘ epic finale.
‘Contact’ opens with a NASA voice sample of Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan, as he describes a spinning object in space. In Daft Punk’s world, this is contact with another world. The final track leaves you breathless, launching from slow, resonant organ that recalls the vast cosmic, orchestral gaze of Electric Light Orchestra. It then builds into a whirlwind vacuum of twirling samples and manic, primal drum chaos. It’s a scintillating crescendo.
Daft Punk’s desires mirror Stanley Kubrick’s vision in 2001: A Space Odyssey. They aim to takes the listener both into the nether regions of space and also deep into the human soul. On both fronts, Random Access Memories is a triumph.