Saturday, October 22, 2016

Random Access Memories (2013)

Full disclosure: Though it's only their fourth studio album since 1997, Random Access Memories is the first I've listened closely to Daft Punk. In previous encounters, I was left cold by what I heard as robotic and repetitive, a typical problem of one flavor of electronica I'm quick to dismiss (Fatboy Slim is another example). So my first surprise here was how melodic and soft it is, with conventional pop structures, mid tempos, and even room for improvisation—those are virtues to me, though I understand the "easy listening" and/or "soft jazz" charges I've seen leveled against this. It offers a great big glorious wallow in musical sweets. It might be fair to say it's intended for an audience approaching middle age, as long as the band is too. There's a nice sense of history (another sign of age), with Nile Rodgers on board for the big hit, "Get Lucky," which also features Pharrell Williams. That sense of history is perhaps most evident in "Giorgio by Moroder," in which Giorgio Moroder himself narrates the story of his career as a producer, songwriter, and iconic disco figure. It's a nice story, in a few different ways. Moroder, an avatar of that very robotic and repetitive style I was just complaining about, comes across in his oral history more like a winning scrapper in the mold of indie rock bands, driving a van to gigs, sleeping where he can, and scratching it out, when all else fails, by pure belief in himself and what he is doing. Other collaborators stepping in on this album include Julian Casablancas, Chilly Gonzales, Panda Bear, and Paul Williams—an interesting range in the collaborators. Daft Punk makes good use of them too, as they generally appear on the best songs, such as "Lose Yourself to Dance," dominated (in all good ways) by Pharrell Williams. The album ends on the only song with a sample, "Contact," which includes a musical figure from the Sherbs and audio from the Apollo 17 mission describing a strange light in the night sky. Beautiful mood. Random Access Memories is not a challenging album but it is a very charming one—that is, it comes all the way to you, and does its best to please. I think I might have used it up some time ago, as recent sessions have found it more receding into the background while I pay attention to other things. Still, I think it has the potential to be a pleasant if temporary infatuation for anyone, and perhaps for me again too.

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