For a very long time now it certainly felt as if Daft Punk weren’t going to return from their spaceship any time soon. Coy and playfully, this spaceship has been referenced even by Pharrell Williams in mentioning the French duo’s electric and eclectic take on music. Whatever the case was, it’s always been well-known and furthermore, well-received, that Daft Punk were always a musician’s group. Never solely electronic and never solely dance, their craft always was and still is: about the presence of heart and spirit in music and how delivered together, into true fruition, the outcome could very well be spectacular. Now, with Random Access Memories, the duet has returned after a long hiatus from proper studio albums, with another triumphant winner.
Secretly hiding any intentions of a new album by demanding all of their guest artists to keep a tight lid on the proceedings, Random Access Memories was delivered without a leak with successful results. The group was able to suck us all in with their “The Collaborators” series (interviews with each of the guest artists recalling their singular achievements and how it was to work with Daft Punk), a teasing amount of commercial snippets, and then with lead single, “Get Lucky.” Featuring Williams on what is easily one of the best choruses of 2013, that song alone was enough to really push the wave of momentum into a new realm. And fortunately, Random Access Memories is every bit worth the wait with a fantastic new approach to what the album format could possibly mean.
The duo had stated in interviews that they were working on a new album, while also creating the music for the most recent Tron movie. They decided to ditch their efforts and concluded that they wanted to work with as little synthesizers as possible and instead, enlisted the help of numerous guest artists to flesh out the thirteen tracks on Random Access Memories. The aforementioned “Get Lucky” fashions both Williams’ sultry, smooth vocals and Nile Rodgers, of Chic, on a dynamically rich guitar line. Admitting that he felt as if Daft Punk were his ‘contemporaries,’ rather than artists influenced by him, the music sounds like something both ahead of its time and indebted to the 70s and 80s. Daft Punk showcase a masterful skill at being able to take sounds both human and creatively robotic and they marry them into songs that are vibrantly alive and warm. It all leaks out onto the album like a tree robustly bursting with mass at the seams; the measure of life comes through the music like a spaceship and we’re oh so lucky to be invited for the ride.
The sheer fact that the album was kept under tight restraints for so long is testament to Daft Punk’s relentless ability at understanding what the full listening experience is about and what it means to music lovers all around the world. They understood that releasing a radio edit to “Get Lucky” was enough to celebrate but with the realization that it would be the entire album of Random Access Memories that people would be salivating for. The album itself features music that is very much still electronic, but with an understanding for music’s many facets and pleasures. Beginning with “Give Life Back to Music,” the duo introduces their new voyage with a guitar-based fanfare before the funky grooves kick in. Rodgers lends a winning guitar melody that is filled with spirit and the two robots sing in utterly sublime fashion; there’s a clear notion for festivity and the music is easily allowed to take over. The album version of the aforementioned “Get Lucky” is another showcase as it rests at the heart of the album – tenaciously bold and memorable – Williams’ declaration of wanting to find that special someone is even more special when Daft Punk offer the bridge in touching style. The album’s songs flow throughout and the collective output is a story of congratulatory celebration.
While this isn’t Discovery Pt. 2, it’s every bit as successful because of the sheer amount of skill on display. Enlisting the help of Giorgio Moroder to present a monologue detailing the rise of his life into music, the duo used microphones from several decades to impress with the passing nature of music and technology. On “Instant Crush” Julian Casablancas offers arguably his finest vocals of the year and the manipulations by Daft Punk to his voice are incredibly remarkable. And on “Fragments of Time” Todd Edwards supplies vocals to a slinky, almost jazzy vibe that is still heavy with synthesizers but even heavier with soul. Perhaps that’s why Daft Punk called it “The Collaborators” because everyone worked hand in hand with the Parisian duo, but it’s still very much a Daft Punk album. Even at the end of “Lose Yourself to Dance,” where Rodgers features his third and final winning guitar line, the duo appear at the end of Williams’ vocals to offer an exceptional and soothing vocal refrain that entirely steals the show.
It certainly felt like a very long time and for Daft Punk, the idea of nailing an album as close to perfection was always the key facet to it all. In working with all these musicians and in keeping true to a method of music-making that is level-headed, interestingly innovative and focused, they haven’t lost any ability. In retrospect, they have been able to generate albums that leave lasting impressions where every tiny detail is ensured to be delivered at the highest quality. And in the end they’ve presented a massively flawless album – we’re just lucky enough to be passengers on their voyage.