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Daft Punk ‘Random Access Memories’ – Review

29 May
Unity is one of the most overlooked casualties of the Internet age. It’s a myth that the Internet brings us together. Theoretically It makes it a lot easier for people to communicate but practically it isolates us. We sit alone at computers as the hours pass by, staring at a screen. It’s also a myth that the Internet has opened this generation’s minds to new ideas. Sure, we have access to all kinds of Information, but do we take it in? Look at music; we now have access to pretty much every song ever recorded but does that make us intrepid explorers? Of course it doesn’t. When you go to a buffet you end up having what you know you like and in the same way when you open spotify you listen to music you know you like. We go to forums to play-fight with like-minded individuals and we visit websites we know are going to back up our arguments. The Internet has enabled us to become even more caught up in our own preferred sub-cultures. We tweet our opinions in tiny sound-bites that are so numerous and inconsequential that nobody cares to read them. We talk AT people about music but I bet we don’t talk TO people about music anywhere near as much these days. The internet has divided us.
But I think music still has the potential to bring us together, even if it’s happening less and less. Traditionally album release days have been hugely important in uniting us but in 2013 everyone listens in fragments. First there are the dodgy youtube live versions, then the leaks, then the amazon-previews and the official streams… people get their music at completely different times. The other week it was reported that Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories’ is likely to overtake Oasis’ ‘Be Here Now’ for highest first week sales, and it’s interesting to think back to the release of that Oasis album. People qued around the block for it, waiting for record stores (where are they now?) to open so they could be the first to PURCHASE (not stream it or download it or steal it) the album. They went home and listened to it at pretty much the same time on the same morning. News stations sent reporters down to Interview the fans lining up outside. In one such clip found on YouTube a young Pete Doherty is interviewed in line, along with other music-greedy teenagers, eagerly anticipating a new release from his favourite band. It’s hard not to be nostalgic on several different levels; nostalgic for teenagers with patience, nostalgic for a time when a new Oasis record was a big deal, nostalgic for physical albums, nostalgic for Pete Doherty’s innocence and nostalgic for tangible music fandom.
Music fans rarely get that excited these days. But something similar is happening with ‘Random Access Memories’. You just need to watch footage from the release parties around the world to see how excited people have been for this. Daft Punk fans are excited. People who had never previously heard of Daft Punk are excited. School Kids are excited. Their parents are excited. Their grandparents are excited. Radio 1 DJ’s are excited. Heart FM DJs are excited. Late Night Pirate Radio DJs are excited. Hard boiled critics are excited. Poptimists are excited. I’m excited. The world is excited. It feels for the first time in ages, everyone is on the same page about something. And this is no exaggeration – I’ve yet to meet a person who has heard Get Lucky and hasn’t been counting down the seconds, minutes and hours ‘till the release of this album. The amazing thing is that Daft Punk haven’t released a record in 8 years – and their last one was savaged by the press and only entered the charts at number 10! It’s been well over a decade since their last hit and last indisputable triumph and yet ‘Get Lucky’ is on its fourth week at number one. Daft Punk are in their 20th year as a band but they’ve never sounded so relevant.
Their current success is down to hype caused by a remarkable PR campaign that saw the band steal the show at Coachella with a 30 second advert, parodied at Funnyordie.com for their collaborator videos and take over a small rural Australian Agricultural festival. In the process they’ve hardly made an appearance, instead leaving it to the likes of Pharell Williams, Georgio Moroder, Todd Edwards, Nile Rodgers and Panda Bear to do the talking (and in the process drop superlatives like they’re going out of fashion). Mystique is another dying art that Daft Punk know how to create.
In fact, they’ve created such a storm AROUND the album that there’s a very real danger the music itself will be reduced to a footnote – which is the complete opposite of what they want to achieve. The whole point of this record is that it puts the focus back on pure, man-made, lovingly crafted MUSIC. It’s an album designed to unite the people.  The opening track is called ‘Give Life Back to Music’ and it plays like a working manifesto. It’s a roaring success. It’s had to express just how ALIVE the song feels. Every element of it is warm, detailed and joyous.  It sets the tone for an album that is (ironically considering their whole ‘robot’ personas) one of the most human sounding releases I’ve heard in ages.
‘Give Life Back to Music’ melts into ‘The Game of Love’ a song that shimmer’s and ripples like the most laid-back disco classic. Listen to it long enough and you can visualise the light reflecting from the disco ball in a dark club. The robots’ vocoder vocals are an object of great beauty; playful, mysterious and futuristic but nowhere near as creepy or manipulated as the auto-tuned garbage you’re used to hearing in mainstream pop. The synths almost glide; they don’t poke against the other instruments as synths usually do, instead they are used as a bed for everything else to lie on, or a bath for you to soak in. I hope I’m expressing just how warm and smooth and essential the sonic soundscape of the song is. It’s just flawless.
Over the course of 73 minutes (the absolute maximum run time of a single CD), you’ll be transported through many sounds and moods. From the theatrical oddness of the Paul Williams (dude wrote the soundtrack to the Muppets Christmas Carol) co-penned ‘Touch’, to the silky LA soft-rock of the Todd Edwards co-penned ‘Fragments of Time’, this is an album that frolics in kitsch and corn with a non-ironic smile. It’s fun and sometimes funny. It loves with an open heart and doesn’t have a discriminative bone in its body. The session musicians featured, as much as the marquee names, exude class and expertise. The ‘Billie Jean’ bounce on ‘Instant Crush’ is provided by the legendary session player J.R Robinson (he actually played on Billie Jean) and features Julian Casablancas doing his best 2013 Julian Casablancas impression (hey, it’s the best thing to bear his name in at least two years, even if he is sticking with that dreadful falsetto vocal). And it may be Pharell Williams who sings on the two singles but it’s Chic legend Nile Rodgers who provides his now staple funky riff. Elsewhere seasoned guitarist Paul Jackson Jr (whose credits include Thriller) and bass player Nathan East (co-wrote some of Phil Collins hits) sprinkle some star dust over some old-fashioned song-writing.
Despite being such a long and diverse collection, many of the songs are striking in their immediacy. ‘Lose Your Dance’ may be the slightly stodgier, slightly less groovy brother to ‘Get Lucky’ but it has summer smash hit written all over it. ‘Contact’ is a euphoric climax that takes off to the sound of an astronaut discussing some kind of alien object as seen from a distance. Best of all is the epic ‘Georgio by Moroder’. When I heard they were putting a ten minute long spoken word piece as the third track I was justifiably intrigued and perplexed. How could this possibly work? Especially so early on? Well It does. Something about his accent (‘the synthesiser‘), the ‘I Feel Love’ hook and repetitive groove make it one of the definitive disco tracks of recent years.
As a perfectly HUMAN album it’s logical that ‘Random Access Memories’ should be imperfect, which it is. The other week I spoke to a serious collector of obscure disco, a guy who really knows his stuff. I asked him what he thought of ‘Get Lucky’ and although he was as charmed as anyone else by the song’s luxurious melody and accurate recreation of the Chic sound, he was slightly disappointed. ‘I just wish they’d done it harder. Just…HARDER.’ Although I didn’t really know what he meant (he was extremely drunk at the time…possibly stoned) at the same time I knew exactly what he meant. Maybe it’s because we’re so used to drum n bass BPMs and dub-step drops, but ‘Random Access Memories’ feels very light and un-forceful. Nothing on here ever really pushes the tempo and there are one too many ballads for a dance record. I’m reminded of their own song: ‘HARDER, BETTER, FASTER, STRONGER’. Maybe they should have taken on board some of their own imperatives. The only other major flaw of the album is its length. All the classic disco albums (as few as there are) are under 40 minutes. ‘Random Access Memories’ is twice that length, and it loses focus because of it. The only discernible filler is the completely pointless, lethargic and forgettable ‘Motherboard’ but I would have also sacrificed ‘Within’ and ‘Beyond’ – two atmospheric slow jams that dull the pace a little too much.
This is such a hefty, rollercoaster of an album that it can be a little hard to comfortably digest, especially on early listens. It’s called ‘Random Access Memories because (and I’ll quote Daft Punk on this) “It helped us understand how all of these collaborators could live together, because if you look at this bizarre list of people on paper, you could be like, ‘Whoa, that’s gonna be a big mess.” Seen from this perspective the album makes a lot more sense. As a coherent, front to back record it doesn’t work well at all. But as a series of random musical, collaborative memories collected together, it does work. It works very well indeed. In fact it feels like a very important album. It’s one that most people are likely to hear at some point, in some way, and therefore most people are going to form an opinion about it. You will continue to hear ‘Get Lucky’ everywhere. Probably ‘Loose Yourself to Dance’ as well. Sure it has its flaws, but I’m pretty certain you’re not going to remember what you disliked about Random Access Memories, you’re just going to remember its triumphs. I can already imagine it soundtracking key events in 2013 and beyond: Family barbeques, birthday parties, long car-drives, DJ sets, festivals, weddings, tv shows, freshers week shenanigans etc. ‘Random Access Memories’ is going to help create some pretty epic memories.
When people left Coachella they weren’t talking about anything other than Daft Punk and I’d be surprised if people left 2013 without that name still being on their lips. In a very old-fashioned, but very 21st Century way Daft Punk have put us all on the same page again. So whether we are listening to them at festivals or on itunes, talking about them in record store ques or on blogs, thinking about how retro they are or how futuristic they are, we will be united over Daft Punk.

New Strokes Videos

6 Mar

Check out some new Strokes videos below including a peformance on SNL, the video for ‘Undercover of Darkness’, ‘You’re So Right’ and 30 second previews of songs from ‘Angles’.

Big Boi – ‘For Your Sorrows’

14 Oct

Outkast may have been absent for almost half the decade but when they were active they put out two of the best albums of the last ten years. Stankonia is arguably the definitive hip hop album of the 21st century, featuring the classic ‘Ms Jackson’ and ‘BOB’. It’s follow up was the crazy and unpredictable ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’ – essentially two solo albums sold as an Outkast album. Both records still sound unbelievable today. Although we may be waiting a while for a new Outkast record we should expect a new Big Boi solo album soon – although it has been in the works for absolutely ages.

The fantastically titled ‘Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty’ has been close to release for what seems like years and a few songs have been leaked or been previewed including ‘Royal Flush’, ‘Ringtone’ and now ‘For Your Sorrows’ and ‘Shine Blockas’. The songs are certainly classic Big Boi in style if not quite content, they lack a certain magic Andre may have added. It seems like the album may finally be close to release with more news and songs being released every few weeks and when we finally get a release date you can guarentee that this will be one highly anticipated album.

Best Coast

24 Sep

Best Coast are the fuzzy surf pop band from Bethany Consentino of Pocahaunted, and they are seriously fun. It’s hard to say much more about the group as seriously little information is available and their debut ep appears to be sold out 😦 . What I do know, is that they are a great little pop group with some seriously catchy melodies and a charming aesthetic.

Their myspace has some great songs including the delightful beach boys sounding ‘Over the Ocean’ and the lo fi joy of ‘Sun Was High’. Most of the songs have a relaxed summer vibe which makes it slightly annoying that I’ve only just found out about them. They have a 7 inch out now which may or may not be sold out (more confusion!) but here is the info and a music video.


Vampire Weekend – Contra!

15 Sep

For the last week or so I’ve been spotting an advert that seems to be everywhere – a Polaroid of a woman in a yellow polo shirt. No text, just a photo. When you click the photo it takes you to a website with the picture maximised but no other information. Until now. That is because the Polaroid has been revealed to be the cover of the new Vampire Weekend record. Not only was this a great advertising move by the band and XL (although the album is still months away) but it’s a great photo that fits in nicely to VW’s continuity.

This was not the only bit of Vampire weekend news today as now when you click on the advert it takes you to VW’s homepage which gives us yet more details of the album. The album is called ‘Contra’ and it will be released on January 11th in the UK, a lot later than expected. Below is the tracklisting…

01 Horchata
02 White Sky
03 Holiday
04 California English
05 Taxi Cab
06 Run
07 Cousins
08 Giving Up the Gun
09 Diplomat’s Son
10 I Think Ur a Contra

I’ve already heard live versions or demos of 4 tracks and if these are anything to go by then I wouldn’t expect a huge change from the band’s previous stuff. ‘Cousins’ sounded a bit like ‘Bryn’ from their debut and Run was like ‘Blake’s got a new Face’. ‘White Sky’ sounds most interesting of the tracks I’ve heard and shows a development from the more sophisticated end of ‘Vampire Weekend’. I certainly can’t wait to hear ‘Contra’ in full this Winter.