“When everybody has the ability to make magic, it’s like there’s no magic — if the audience can just do it themselves, why are they going to bother?” – Thomas Bangalter, in an interview with Pitchfork
While taking in the long-awaited sonographic experience that is Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, the hugely-anticipated fourth studio album from the mystical robotic duo, I couldn’t help but think three thoughts: 1) that Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Banglater were the creators of an elaborate prank, and I was outside looking in; 2) that the duo was making music just as much for themselves as much as they were making it for their fans; 3) that I was clearly being schooled in the sounds of the music that my parents likely met and danced to.
Random thoughts aside, Random Access Memories seems to be the instance of magic that has refreshingly reappeared in an all-too-familiar dance music scene where the same 10 EDM artists use the same drum kits, sound effects and melodies…sometimes even the same 5 of-the-moment Pop singers. Thankfully, the human aspect of live instrumentation and the conveyance of human emotions through ironic android voices create an aura a magic — if not off-putting weirdness at first listen — that any listen instantly recognizes as something different, if nothing else.
Three magic spectacles (I refuse to give the the simple treatment of the word ‘tricks’) came to mind while listening to Random Access Memories:
1. The simultaneous nod to the past and the future. In enlisting music legends such as Nile Rodgers, Paul Williams and Giorgio Moroder, Daft Punk manage to effectively get their geek on (meeting your musical idols is a dream few musicians get to realize, even for the likes of Daft Punk), introduce the history of Pop music to the likely unknowing masses (like yours truly — I had to look up Moroder for a few minutes before I realized just how amazingly familiar I am with his music without ever really knowing it until now), and creating some cool music in the process.
Though I’m still trying to figure out “Touch” (there are apparently 205 elements to the 8-minute song!), I thoroughly enjoyed “Giorgio By Moroder“; I kinda felt like I was in a masterclass of sorts with Moroder himself as he narrates how he got his start in the music business, while several variations on a theme explode through the speakers. Let’s also not forget the not-so subtle throwback to Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgetting” and Warren G/Nate Dogg’s “Regulate” on “Beyond“, yes?
“Giorgio By Moroder”:
2. Computer Love. Perhaps a subtle jab to the cold and unyielding computer-heavy House anthems that are so popular today, Random Access Memories takes a step back from it all without really forgetting where they’d be without electronic influences in the first place — but of course, they do it their way. In the vocals of “The Game of Love” and “Within”; Daft Punk’s vocoded voices manage to project human emotion through the simple yet familiar lyrics, shown here from “Within”:
Last time I tried, I couldn’t make my laptop cry… so Daft Punk wins this one.
3. It’s got a beat, and I can dance to it! I’ll admit it, I was waiting for the couple of tunes that would magically get me moving after thinking and feeling for nearly half of the record. There are definitely no “club hits” in the style of “One More Time”, or “Harder Better Faster Stronger”. However, much in the style of the rest of the record, Daft Punk indeed gives us something to boogie to — in the forms of “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance“, easily danceable throwbacks to the 70s and 80s, with the signature voice of Pharrell Williams. It’s also refreshing to hear actual instruments, such as a mean bass (thanks Nile Rodgers!), real drums and real guitar riffs. Anyone else notice the nod to “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” in the last minute or so of “Get Lucky”? Go back and listen if you didn’t.
Random Access Memories, in the short time I’ve listened to it, has started, ever so slowly, to grow on me. Perhaps Daft Punk’s ultimate magic trick is culminated in this album — the ability to be so radically different from what’s current, so off-putting, and simultaneously able to look to the past and predict the future. Most of all, though, it is sonographic — “an instrument that uses the differential transmission and reflection of ultrasonic waves in order to provide an image of a bodily organ”, playing to the head, the heart and the feet, through human and android emotions. If after all of that, I simply just want to hit repeat to experience it all over again — I believe Daft Punk has indeed cast a successful spell.
Daft Punk’s first album in eight years, Random Access Memories, is released via Columbia on May 20, pre-order it on iTunes.