The fourth release from French duo Daft Punk, Random Access Memories, is nothing like what you’re expecting.
Instead, Memories is an abrupt turn into uncharted territory for a group heralded as the kings of the electronic genre and often cited as being responsible for the surge of computerized music that has become increasingly popular in recent years.
“Get Lucky,” the first single from the album, is a club-friendly track that drips with funky grooves reminiscent of 1970’s disco. Featuring vocals from Pharrell and guitar from Nile Rodgers, the song appears to preview a record made up of similarly catchy tunes just waiting to be overplayed by your local radio station.
The soulful sound heard in “Get Lucky” acts as a thematic through-line, but the album itself is far grander and, indeed, more difficult to approach than anything the group has done thus far.
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, the men behind the ubiquitous masks, have eschewed the synthetic approach that has become their signature style in favour of a sound that is massive in both scale and presentation.
The computerized effects that can draw nostalgic thoughts of retro video games remain, but they’re accompanied by instrumentals at times precise and at others sweeping — as when whole string sections join the fray.
The album blasts into life with the opening riffs of “Give Life Back to Music,” a song that quickly dials down into a slow-jam that pulses with danceable energy. It’s a track that could easily fit into radio setlists if it was not a touch long at 4:30 — and as Memories second shortest song, this could easily turn into a problem.
Indeed, there are two songs among the 13 tracks that stretch past the eight minute mark. The first of which, “Giorgio by Moroder,” is a sprawling exploration of the history of its central figure, the titular Giovanni Giorgio Moroder. Lending much of its time to Moroder’s recollections, the song is as much a journey into the historical foundations of dance music as it is a glimpse into Homem-Christo and Bangalter’s vision for its future.
As the listener ventures deeper, it quickly becomes apparent that Daft Punk has no intentions of subscribing to the attention deprived, single-crazed culture that is the norm today. Memories is a record built, front-to-back, as a cohesive unit; each track builds off the one that came before and bleeds into the next, creating an album that begs to be listened to as a whole.
Lyrically, the album orbits subjects that are surprisingly small-scale and heartfelt. These are songs that cover topics ranging from fading memories to plunging headfirst into the moment to the universally familiar concepts of loneliness and love.
With their latest release, Daft Punk takes the best parts from the old and transforms them into something entirely new: a space age epic that draws inspiration from its roots.
Memories is a step removed from its predecessors, but that’s hardly a negative. Rather, the album’s greatest link to its lineage stems from a faint echo from the title of the band’s third studio release — perhaps this robotic duo is human after all.