Sunday, April 22, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

Review: Daft Punk's 'Random Access Memories' finds heart among the circuitry

How to explain the lovefest slobbered upon digi-duo Daft Punk these days? After all, the electronic-dance DJs aren't the warmest les hommes in the world.

They wear nerdo sci-fi helmets obscuring their French faces. They've released a handful of obtuse albums since 1993, including 2010's Tron synthtrack and this week's Random Access Memories, which is already No. 1 on iTunes.

Not exactly household names, Daft Punk is about as warm as a smooch from R2D2, and yet nobody's hotter.

As it turns out, Random Access Memories is an ideal album for our plugged-in times, something that both celebrates and denigrates our dependence on technology. Chart-topping first single Get Lucky is a ridiculously sexy disco groove featuring the Neptunes' Pharrell Williams and Chic's Nile Rodgers.

Daft Punk — a.k.a. Parisian house music stars Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter — build burbling technoscapes then have warmer humans emote over the space odyssey with flesh-and-blood voice and music. And you don't get warmer than Rodgers, the man behind 1978's Le Freak.

Get Lucky, however, is a relative anomaly on the new record, as great swaths of the 13-track, 74-minute LP are lush robot-makin' music. But no worries there either: EDM (electronic dance music) and DJ culture is booming on the youth circuit, another reason for Daft Punk's surge. DJs Skrillex and Deadmau5 are also rising stars, and throbbing raves are the hip new gathering places.

It also helps that Daft Punk is all about the big beat, which has made the duo popular with rappers, including buddy Kanye West, who sampled DP's 2001 song Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger for his club smash Stronger. It's just a matter of time until a hip-hopper co-opts new cut Doin' It Right, a street-smart collaboration with Animal Collective's Panda Bear, who sounds like a cryogenically frozen Brian Wilson.

The new record is not perfect — a little Daft Punk goes a long way — but it's never boring. For ominous closer Contact, the guys sample audio from the Apollo 17 mission then rev up the light cycles from Tron. It's a thunderous, over-the-top experience — ridiculous but compu-cool. Same goes with 8-minute-plus Touch, which features, oddly enough, '70s star Paul Williams (Rainbow Connection! Phantom of the Paradise! Little Enos in Smokey and the Bandit!). Not sure how many times you'll sit through the 9-minute Giorgio by Moroder, a tribute to the Italian record producer and disco king. But it's goofy fun hearing the man himself narrate his life over a wocka-wocka DP groove perfect for a Donna Summer get-down.

Sitting through the whole album at once, and more than once, is a slog, especially sober. But I'll return for several tracks: Get Lucky and another Pharrell-Rodgers cut, Lose Yourself to Dance, which has a great switchblade guitar riff. Then there's '80s-tastic Instant Crush, featuring the Strokes' Julian Casablancas on vocals and guitar. Again, Daft Punk's synthesizers are layered and layered again — a lunar nightclub in the works — but here the cyborgs are yearning for electric love. It's about as warm as these guys get, especially when Casablancas cranks up, and that's saying something. We are a plugged-in society, and credit Daft Punk with finding heart among the circuitry.

Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

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