Review: Random Access Memories – Daft Punk

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Released: May 21, 2013
Rating: 90/100

Few albums have been surrounded by more hype and mystery than the release of Daft Punk’s long awaited 4th album Random Access Memories. Much has been written about the marketing, the collaborators, and the unique place that Daft Punk occupies in popular culture but I’m here to talk tunes. Random Access Memories is a stellar but imperfect album that was well worth the wait. I don’t normally do this but let’s go song by song.

1. “Give Life Back To Music”
The opening track serves as the thesis statement for the album. For this release, Daft Punk abandoned their samples and electronic instrumentation in favor of live sounds. “Give Life Back To Music” kicks off with a massive guitar riff before dropping into an infectious disco groove. The song establishes that this album is going to be all about production quality and instrumental virtuosity. It’s a powerful way to start the album and it is one of the best tracks on RAM.

2. “Game of Love”
High Fidelity taught me to start every album/mix tape with something big to grab the listeners attention. After that you are supposed to take it up a notch to keep the listen invested. Unfortunately Daft Punk really dropped the ball on track 2. “Game of Love” isn’t a bad song, but it isn’t an interesting one either. The main problem with this album is that it’s about 15 minutes too long. This is the first song to get the axe in my opinion. This is a boring track to put in the 2 spot and it could have been left off the album and I would not have missed it.

3. “Giorgio by Moroder”
It only took an epic 9 minute jam to put Random Access Memories back on track. Featuring autobiographical narration from electronic music pioneer Giorgio Moroder, this track starts in chill disco land and then launches into a synthesizer groove that is similar to but still more organic than the sounds we usually hear on a Daft Punk record. Slowly the disco guitars, drums, keys and even orchestration mixes in with the synth to create a tasty blend of the past and present. It’s not a small task to make a 9 minute song that is compelling from start to finish but “Giorgio by Moroder” does it with ease. There are several distinct movements culminating in a sweeping climax with aggressive overdriven guitar riffs, cinematic orchestration and some of the best session drumming you will hear this side of the 1980s. In short, it’s a masterpiece.

4. “Within”
“Within” and “Game of Love” are the slow jams on the album. But everywhere “Game of Love” fails, “Within” excels. The melody is much more memorable and the lyrical content for the song is some of the most human we have heard from the otherwise robotic duo. It’s a simple song but it fits well on the album and its a nice cool down after the explosive “Giorgio by Moroder”. “Within” is an existential and vulnerable track that shows the bands range and while not my favorite song on the record, it works.

5. “Instant Crush”
Decent but a little bit of a let down. I had high hopes for a Daft Punk & Julian Casablancas collaboration and while I wasn’t exactly disappointed but I wasn’t necessarily impressed either. It definitely picks up as the song goes on but the build is lethargic and the payoff isn’t all that it could have been.

6. “Lose Yourself to Dance”
This is where the party starts. “Lose Yourself to Dance” features Pharrell Williams singing over an infectious disco stomp. Its groovy as all hell and the verse is as catchy as the chorus. With clean guitars, natural drums, and hand claps this is EDM without the E. We get some classic Daft Punk vocoder vocals with a simple ascending repetition of “come on” and the final product is a jam. Definitely one of the highlights of the album and it kicks off an outrageously good stretch of 3 songs leading into “Touch” and “Get Lucky”.

7. “Touch”
Oh “Touch”, sweet “Touch”. This is a complex and sprawling epic of a song that begins with a muddled mess of sounds and heavily effected vocals before letting Paul Williams deep and emotional voice take center stage as the song builds to an upbeat toe-tapper with jangling pianos and horns. Thats just the first phase of the song and its wonderful. It continues to morph and change beautifully with nuanced composition and emotive vocals that all remind me of Elton John’s definitive Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It sounds like its been a classic for decades and subsequently, I think it will be.

8. “Get Lucky”
Its the undisputed 2013 summer jam. Its the best song that has been released this year. I know its only 2013 but it I believe it will end up being one of the defining tracks of this decade. Its high praise but “Get Lucky” deserves it.

9. “Beyond”
This serves as a kind of cool down track after the jam-a-thon of tracks 6-8. Like “Within” and “Game of Love”, its a mid-tempo track that is driven by vocoder vocals and light guitar work and soft synthesizers. Its a forgettable song that would not have made the album if I was responsible for editing.

10. “Motherboard”
This would have been more effective and captivating cool down song after “Get Lucky”. Its a progressive instrumental song that explores a mixture of synthesized textures and orchestral patterns. It doesn’t sound too far off from the material on the Tron: Legacy Soundtrack. The first half is light and airy and then after a swirl of bizarre synth sounds, gets darker and more percussive before building up to dazzling crescendo.

11. “Fragments of Time”
The whole Random Access Memories experience is reminiscent of the 70s and 80s but “Fragments of Time” is perhaps the most accurate homage to that time period. With Todd Edwards on vocals the song has a sunny but laid back feel to it. Borrowing heavily from some of the 70s and 80s pop-rock greats like Chicago, Peter Frampton, and Elton John, “Fragments of Time” shows off a different side of Daft Punks nostalgia and its elegantly and effortlessly executed.

12. “Doin It Right”
While most of Random Access Memories sounds like the past, “Doin It Right” sounds notably more contemporary. Featuring signature Daft Punk vocoder vocals alongside vocals from Animal Collective member Panda Bear, this is the simplest song on the album but it is a dancey little jam none the less. More than anything, it makes me wish Animal Collective spent less time trying to push the envelope and more time trying to have fun.

13. “Contact”
In every way an album can be, Random Access Memories is huge and “Contact” is a fitting conclusion for the journey. Its an escalating progression of sound that gets bigger, louder, and heavier with each note. Driven by a rapid synth arpeggio and some out of this world percussion “Contact” is a perfect soundtrack for leaving orbit. It sounds very different than anything else on the album but works well as a grand finale for Random Access Memories.

Random Access Memories is here to stay. It’s not Discovery but it is a remarkable collection of songs that have been masterfully produced. At the end of the day, my only complaint is the length of the album. At nearly 75 minutes, RAM drags at points but when the groove is on its pure magic. With a few edits this could have been 10 songs, 60 minutes and practically perfect. But hey, they’re only human after all.

Top Tracks: “Get Lucky”, “Touch”, “Giorgio by Moroder”, “Lose Yourself To Dance”

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