Rockists grudgingly admit a love for Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter. The Parisian duo paved a path for electronic dance music, once the bane of a traditional rockist’s oevure—and I use that lightly. Remember, while disco may be the snotty polyester-clad teenager in the history of popular music, rock is the grumpy father who fails to recognize that there was different, interesting music before him and that there will continue to be exciting new music after him. While in the ’70s “death to disco” was the honor cry of said rock ‘n’ roll set, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories—a disco record through and through, right down to its falsettos, semiquavers and generous inclusion of disco guitar legend and Chic founder Nile Rodgers—is the most-buzzed album of the year from critics and fans alike. Hell, in a truly bizarre indicator of their universal appeal, even the Wall Street Journal published a lifestyle piece on the once D.I.Y. art of making a Daft Punk helmet.
As such, Random Access Memories opens with the upbeat “Give Life Back To Music,” an apt title for the introduction into to the band’s new turn and a soft open for anyone looking to relive the thumping glory of “One More Time” or “Da Funk.” And it’s a strong track, but still just a taste of what’s an hour or so down the guest-star laden road. The aforementioned guitar whiz Rodgers’s influence can be felt throughout the album (he appears on “Give Life Back To Music,” “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself To Dance”) but he’s just one of many perfectly selected guests. On “Giorgio By Moroder,” an early but lengthy lounge slow-burner, Giorgio Moroder himself, who famously produced Donna Summer’s “On The Radio” and Blondie’s “Call Me” among many hits, only contributes a 2-minute spoken word intro to the 9-minute piece. The track, which works as a tribute to his musical breakthroughs, exemplifies his desires: “I wanted to have the sound of the future,” he plainly states. “Nobody told me what to do and there was no preconception of what to do.”
Panda Bear’s guest vocals on “Doin’ It Right” (called “Doin’” despite the pronounced enunciation of the missing G) is a nod to the album’s “now” sound. It’s a strong note for Noah Lennox: Where his collaborations with Zomby and Ducktails have fallen flat, here his organic cadence flows nicely when juxtaposed with Daft Punk’s perfectly executed robotic monotony. And where Lennox establishes some indie cred, Bangalter and de Homem-Christo called upon Pharell Williams for the mainstream dance and pop set. A dance-club worthy album cut of “Get Lucky,” RAM‘s premier single and catchy grower also featuring Rodgers and some extended glossy late ’90s dance-hall production, is equally the Neptunes as it is disco Daft Punk. On “Lose Yourself To Dance,” Williams is ambiguous in his falsetto as per the genre. His vocals are strong and faceless, but they accentuate the production rather than overpower it.
Unbound by convention, Daft Punk seamlessly included whatever the hell they wanted on this record. Not just because they’re musically sublime robots from a future of hovercrafts and Judy Jetson discotheques, but because Daft Punk knows when to edit and when to fall free. The orchestral intro of “Beyond” could have scored a futuristic montage in Fantasia and the beautifully textured “Touch” employs a choral section above growing blips and vocals from Paul Williams (yep, the Paul Williams of “Rainbow Connection” notoriety), and nothing sounds even a hair out of place.
The Strokes’ Julian Casablacas is featured on “Instant Crush,” which, while it fits in nicely with the mood of RAM, falls a bit short when placed next to the second half of the album, which, stacked with “Doin’ It Right,” “Get Lucky” and the guitar-and-keys heavy closer “Contact,” is hard to beat. Beginning with a Space Odyssey-esque decription of the vastness of space, “Contact” builds and ends Random Access Memories, simultaneously functioning as a pipe organ funeral dirge and a musical black hole, sucking all-night dancers into an abyss of hypnotically perfect music. Please don’t let me out.