Random Access Memories
"Give life back to music." This clear and measured statement opens Daft Punk's colossal new album. For a group that has spent all of their career in masks and have fashioned an aura of being robotic representatives to electronic music, this seems like an odd name for a song. But with the stunning Random Access Memories they have done just that. Parisian dance music legends Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo haven't released an album in over 8 years (No, TRON doesn't count) and in that time EDM has officially found its foothold in popular music and culture. The robots didn't create the genre but they were certainly instrumental in bringing it to the masses and their influence on that genre today is unquestionable. Thing is, Daft Punk have completely left the galaxy of EDM and the rest of the Serato generation to play with their toys and push their buttons. With Random Access Memories the duo have created something that feels brand new and nostalgic all in the same breath. All hyperbole aside; they have created timeless music, no easy task in this world where everything on the radio sounds homogenized and produced en masse. For the first time in a career that spans over 15 years Daft Punk have created a "studio" album as opposed to an album on laptops in their homes and the sounds that result from that process are quite evident. The album was created with as many live instruments as possible with the only electronics being flares of drum machine but lots of modular synthesizer. They worked with legendary producers Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder to create songs that harken back to a long-gone era of studio musicians and analogue production. From the opening riff of "Give Life Back To Music" you can hear that the entire approach to music has changed for DP. "The Game Of Love" has a very human quality despite the android crooning and feels like a grown-up version of "Something About Us". Meanwhile, "Giorgio By Moroder" is essentially an autobiography of Italian synthesizer deity Giorgio Moroder's young musical career that has been scored by Daft Punk. When the drop finally comes, the song is launched into space like "Veridis Quo" on jet fuel. At 9:00 long, the song is a beautiful beast. Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas shows up on "Instant Crush" but his vocals are so doused in vocoder you can hardly tell it's him except for his signature cadence. The real MVP here is Pharrell Williams, who shows up on two tracks. The inescapable anthem of the year thusfar, "Get Lucky" (Still amazing) and the Zapp & Roger channeling standout "Lose Yourself To Dance". Williams' cool falsetto is a welcomed departure from all the vocal manipulation that much of the rest of the album offers and he knocks both of his songs out the park. The cinematic "Motherboard" with its strings and woodwinds is nearly undanceable but is so striking that it would be impossible not to move to it. The track more has movements than traditional verses. Animal Collective's Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) shows up over another robot voice on the record's most danceable track "Doing It Right" that feels like a declaration for an entire generation who has been raised on "Around The World" and "Da Funk". Album closer "Contact" starts with a vocal sample from the last Apollo mission and then careens into the equivalent of a synth-driven church revival. But Random Access Memories most eyebrow-raising song also feels like its watershed moment, when Paul Williams shows up on the incredible and sweeping "Touch". "Touch, where do you lead? I need something more." Williams sings over a hi-hat ride with a funk guitar riff. With that line it's as if Daft Punk are speaking to an entire league of EDM artists who have lost their way. This all started with robotic vocal samples and drum machines but has completely transcended the genre it championed for so long and I guess that's the whole point of Random Access Memories. This is certainly not an album that was phoned in. This is a labor of love by two artists who have a clear desire to not only inspire, but to make people question their own taste and what is indeed "hip". They've made something that sounds like nothing else out there and changed the status quo again. For a group who pretty much defined and then redefined popular dance music over the last two decades it should come as no surprise that they would make a complete left turn and leave us all in the dust; but they have and the product is nothing short of amazing.