Sunday, December 1, 2013

Daft Punk: Random Access Memories (2013)



Disco is my language, more than house or drum'n'bass or any modern branch of electronica ever could be, which is the easiest explanation of why Random Access Memories converted me wholly to Daft Punk after a decade-plus of apathy. Informed by several fans of the duo who hated it that this was nonsense, I put it away for a while and came back but it's all still there: the shimmering sound of a lost adolescence coming back in bright lights. It's not that I didn't like Homework or Discovery -- both have their good points -- but they never meant anything to me, not like this does.

Not like the wistful groove of "Get Lucky" and its almost desperate good-time funk, not like the slow meltdown of "Game of Love" and "Instant Crush." It seems as if Daft Punk are yearning for something here, to call back to a feeling, and their recording in the wake of that noble-enough nostalgia produces something all the more remarkable for the impossibility of reaching the orgasmic heights it wants. The incapability of recapturing memories renders this poignant, flawed, beautiful -- for me, possibly the most emotionally affecting dance record since Bilingual.

As you'd expect in a record that throws out much of their sound and most if not all of their previous working methods in favor of pop structure and an infatuation with the sound of the radio and club in the '70s and '80s -- especially in the U.S., especially in L.A. -- Daft Punk have a lot of help here. The great Nile Rodgers appears. So, improbably, does Paul Williams on "Touch," a song so bizarre that it's tempting to regard it as a bid for attention, but so what if it is. Pharrell Williams shows up twice, on the interestingly relaxed but hooky single "Lose Yourself to Dance" and then on the aforementioned, really wonderful "Get Lucky," an urgent recording that desperately clings to its every moment of vital, passionate, sparkling pop. Previous Daft guest star Todd Edwards contributes to a surprisingly airy soft-rock slash Whispers vamp called "Fragments of Time," which should seal any lingering sense that Ariel Pink has the best handle on this material. And finally, Panda Bear, because Panda Bear must always show up on everyone else's records since his own are so, y'know, daft. He has a beautiful voice and it's beautiful here.

Random wanders off at times. We needed neither the tiresome Chuck E. Cheese soundcheck "Contact" nor the silly "Beyond," and nine minutes of "Giorgio by Moroder" is a bit much. But everything else is luminous in its willful kitsch and consistent surprise. It's not quite in a class with the first three Chemical Brothers albums, even if it compensates for its inconsistency with the titanic power of its many climaxes, but it makes me nearly as giddy as those used to. I listen to this and I feel great, even as it makes me scarily conscious of how much time has passed, in the world and in my own life, since these sounds were the way of the world. That's probably the idea.

Homework (1997)

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