Daft Punk - Random Access Memories | Album Review | By Volume

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Daft Punk

Random Access Memories

A rich, retro soundscape of beauty – hardly groundbreaking, but that’s hardly the point.

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Author: on May 22, 2013
6.0
Columbia
May 17, 2013

It’s always confused me that Daft Punk became the holy grail of mainstream EDM culture. Around college parties; throughout Coachella and Electric Daisy Carnival; the girl in the club, who just LOVES Daft Punk, y’know, especially when they did that song with Kanye, who like omigod should totally collab with them! – one would think Daft Punk are solely responsible for the dominant force in pop music. Yet, aside from their live album Alive 2007, which along with countrymen Justice’s Cross really showed the artistic (and financial) promise of turning electronic music into an arena-filling rock show, most of Daft Punk’s discography would look sorely out of place in modern EDM culture. No, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have largely been much more interested in crafting homages to the music of their youth, painstakingly recreating the building blocks of electronic and dance music, rather than stacking something new on top. Not to say this is a bad thing – few bands have such an eye for style and sound as Daft Punk, and their deliberately retro artistry has always been impeccably matched with a recording ethos that is all shapely, sexy texture. What it does do, however, is make Random Access Memories an incredibly anachronistic record, defiantly out-of-time to both its detriment and benefit – something as genuinely a Daft Punk record as anything they ever could have made.

That this will disappoint a large portion of Daft Punk’s current audience is a given – aside from ubiquitous single “Get Lucky” and the dilating rush of closer “Contact,” there’s little here that lends itself to raving until dawn. Those who preferred the glittery coke of Discovery to 2013’s preferred cocktail of Evian and molly, however, will find the same Daft Punk as before, with some caveats: longer (bloated?), lusher (decadent?), and certainly unmoored from any modern musical standards (arrogant?). Where Discovery hit its notes firmly and with confidence, Random Access Memories meanders more than it gets down, luxuriating in spacey prog-pop and a hundred little digressions that expand many songs to arena-straining lengths. At times, you can’t help but be impressed with their vision – “Giorgio by Moroder” is an instant classic, something that could have come from decades past yet sounds strangely fresh and alive here, a callback to a legend that is also a reaffirmation of Daft Punk’s own compositional skills. At other junctures, though, things become increasingly unhinged, as on the melodramatic, schizophrenic “Touch,” or the unbearably cheesy – even for Daft Punk – “Fragments of Time.” And occasionally, half-baked segues spiral into space with little purpose or direction, hampering the record’s considerable running time (“Within,” “Motherboard”). For a band so intent on sculpting a sound, Random Access Memories’ occasional dalliances and more lumbering bits of space resemble one part of the classic experience best left unearthed – noodling.

But damn – few people have the wherewithal, not to mention the resources, to pull off a record as extravagant and rich as this one. The production here is teeming with classicist touchstones, from Nile Rodgers’ fluid guitar work to the slinky funk on display in “Instant Crush,” to the pleasantly spartan bump ‘n grind of “Doin’ It Right.” The biggest compliment I can pay to Random Access Memories is that all of the guest stars – and there are many – sound like just that: guests. The duo’s work behind the boards and their minute attention to detail remains the star here, giving even the longest, ostensibly tedious tracts of synth real estate a vibrant sense of color and depth. For all its stylistic hubris and steadfast refusal to kowtow to anything resembling a musical trend, Random Access Memories is nevertheless imbued with Daft Punk’s timeless aesthetic, that seamless appropriation of each and every musical accoutrement from the finest stereophonic sounds of the past. It may have bitten off slightly more than it can chew in the process, but few make gluttony as satisfying as Daft Punk.

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