Saturday, 18 May 2013

My 100th Blog Post, Random Access Memories review and a farewell

I thought this would be a nice way to cap off my blog. I made it to 100 posts, just over ten thousand page views in just over two years, I listened to Daft Punk's Random Access Memories and two songs actually choke me up. It's absurd to think so many care about someone like me on multiple occasion but regardless, I want to thank everyone for actually reading my work, sharing it around and even commenting on it. I have a blog because I feel it's a personal platform and I sometimes don't have anywhere else to write stuff. I think what I've written here is a lot of me getting ideas out unfiltered and I love the feeling. This isn't to say that my work on any other site has been heavily or unfairly edited; it's been edited and handled by people I trust and I feel grateful they enjoy my content, but I also understand that not everyone is willing to read several pages on how great Wreck it Ralph is and why Sim City was an awful gaming experience.

It's just really that good...

So I leave this blog with warm wishes and happiness to start working on something I will be updating on a weekly basis (or rather when I feel like it) once I finish Uni and writing and working on different projects that hopefully lead to stuff. I just wanted to have a formal farewell and rather than stretching it out over several blog posts that would not equate to a well-rounded, yet arbitrary number, I decided to do one long ass blog post saying thank you and that I'll make something new in June that I've already started preliminary work on.

Now, below is my completely unedited review for the Daft Punk album, Random Access Memories which was released worldwide yesterday...well not really worldwide, because Japan is still apparently waiting for a full release. Anyway, the original edited review is on Sticky Trigger and you can just read that one there, or this one which is longer, goes through my thoughts on all the tracks and is just a bit more on how I feel about the album. Enjoy!

Random Access Memories

Three years after their incredible Tron Legacy soundtrack and seven years after their last release, Daft Punk have a lot to live up to. From the announcement to the online hype, the world has been tripping between extensive bouts of excitement and conceited dismissal of the duo's next album. There is something about Daft Punk which has fused with the nostalgia of our generation, whether it's the disco beats, strong melodies and robotic vocals, it reminds us of our own early love affairs with technology, the people we've met, the things we've done and how far we've come. Random Access Memories embodies that digital passion and humanity's love and loss with the past and the future.

The album begins with Give Life Back to Music, a strong track that feels reminiscent of the work of Justice's Audio Video Disco. The 70's rock tribute kicks the entire album into gear, giving a shout out to their own teachers and to Human After All's very classic rock-infused sound. The first track does also feel like an early Kavinsky track, with added layered thumping bass and percussion; the tempo is perfect and every single instrument can be heard clearly. Daft Punk knows they have to appease the Gods of Music and this first track is their tribute in every sense of the word. The riffs are playful and dance over every second of the track. I will say this though, even early on, the album is not a traditional party or dance album, but this first track could start almost any party.

The second track, The Game of Love is a lot softer and could even be compared to Discovery's “Something About Us.” However, it has more of a sexual and traditional instrumental hook and wouldn't feel out of place being placed over Bjork's All is Full of Love video. It's digitised vocals have an interesting balance of sorrow and contemplation, which reflect the moody synths as the song trickles through the album. It could definitely turn a lot of people off early on, but I honestly feel it ties perfectly into the album, its concepts and title. The album is definitely about reflection and this song is looking at love's past and how some moves should and shouldn't have been made. Something I almost completely forgot about Daft Punk is their use of harmony and layering which makes their vocals entwine with their use of synthesisers. It's beautiful to hear that again and know how much time and effort has been put into the track.

The third track Giorgio by Moroder starts with a small talking portion from Moroder himself describing his time growing up in Italy and how he started making music. While some might not know Giorgio's influence on disco music, or dance music at large, his tale is definitely one of importance and worth listening to. The talking portion is over two minutes long but the second Moroder talks about the importance of adding the “click” to his work and my brain recognised it instantly. This was the sound that all dance and disco lovers fall in love with. This was the birth of the 120 BPM we all recognise as the heartbeat of music and as he describes it at the time thinking it was “the sound of the future” and over forty years on it's still prolific and awesome to listen to.

The song is composed by Moroder and the duo and is a perfect encapsulation of Moroder's work with it's rising and falling synthesiser compositions and incredible beat. The nine minute long track is one to be held upon high, especially considering how early in the album Daft Punk has placed it. It does feel more like a finishing track, but the duo knew the importance of their own musical history and where to put it. It's a fitting tribute by and for one of the greatest unsung musical legends. The almost jazz like keyboard playing, the solo use of strings and the beat is something you can easily dance along to and fall in love with over and over again on repeated listening.

The fourth track, Within, is a solemn track that reminds me of early UNKLE with the soft piano opening before adding vocoder vocals which discusses alienation, disconnection and confusion. The song is the shortest on the album and the softest of the tracks. It's an odd addition, especially after the fairly upbeat and historic Giorgio. The song is short and sweet and has more natural instrumentation than almost any other track on the album. The song is important lyrically more than anything else and feels like an addition to Moroder and the transitional period most people go through to get where they are. Within is a sad memory, which while appropriate within the context of the album, maybe a skippable track on some replays.

The fifth track, Instant Crush, features Julian Casablancas from The Strokes and at times, feels like a lost early Strokes track. The song has an incredible melody during the verses and a nod-along backbeat. The chorus feels very Phoenix-y and while the transition from verse to bridge to chorus feel a bit off, from chorus to verse is more natural and complementary to the songs structure. The song is a great addition to the album and lyrically is one of the strongest on the album as it laments on the idea of an image of your past and the ones you loved, despite the reality of the overall situation. The song has a stunning guitar solo which harmonises with the synth on the track half way through, but is never heard from again. It's just these little teasing moments that let me know that Daft Punk are sometimes about those little moments of awesome that bare repeated listening just to hear again. Instant Crush is the antithesis of Daft Punk's own Digital Love and could be considered a sombre companion piece if things didn't turn out so well in making that “dream come true.”

The sixth track, Lose Yourself to Dance, is the first of two tracks on the album with Pharrell Williams. The song is swaying track that reminds me of late 80's, early 90's, Michael Jackson. The claps and the repeated riff becomes hypnotic as the song continues, add in Williams high-pitched vocals and an ever-increasing tempo and the title eventually feels like it's willing you more than asking you. The track seems quite simple but complex in its layering and timing. It's quite reminiscent of Human After All's hypnotic riffs and melodies, but with a lot better composition and a lot more time added to it. The break down of the track just before the four minute mark is perfect in stripping everything back and then building it right back up again without feeling repetitive. The song is combining another strong element of music: movement. Like Daft Punk's video for Around the World, each instrument adds a level of momentum that makes you want to actually start dancing. The claps that make you want to slap your hands, the swaying guitar to make you move your body, the synths that lift you higher and Pharrell's vocals that make you want to move your mouth. It's truly a great song.

Touch is the seventh track on the album and starts off with an Eno-esque musical landscape before being broken by the simple word: Touch. The song begins to warp into a Chemical Brothers trance before letting you go with the music. The album continues to add to your memorable senses and while Touch has a sense of 70's psychedelia to it, it's a long track that feels more like an experience and I could imagine it being played over a hastily edited 2001: A Space Odyssey or Kubrick montage. The use of Academy Award winning songwriter, Paul Williams adds an extra level of history and emotion to the track. His punctuating vocals break through the opening and continue to add a sense of flight to the entire track. I did notice however, the track does have a very similar riff and beat structure to the following track, the beloved single, “Get Lucky”; not really a criticism but definitely at some points I noticed a similarity between the two.

If it wasn't for the main concept behind the album, Touch would seem out of place. The slow tempo break down in the middle, which is proceeded by a reversal of the music, adds an additional memory motif to the entire track, as if trying to remember someone's Touch and how important all the other senses are to look back on. The track also has a symphonic meltdown before being brought back with an incredible synth melody which plays out the rest of the track with a Beatles-like percussion. It's incredible to hear it all in one song and makes me wonder what 70's music fans would think of the track. The ending is a beautiful note before transitioning into Get Lucky that makes it a must listen.

Look, you already know if you like Get Lucky or not. I think while people have been complaining about it's oversaturation in the past couple of weeks, I am still not tired of the track and have heard it either accidentally or purposefully every day since the single was teased on SNL. I think it's an amazing track and I can see why it was chosen as the first single to tease and release. It's a stunning track that is what people think Daft Punk is all about, but has a lot more to it. The composition, the vocals, the lyrics, the beats, the riffs and the melody are more than just a night out; it's about how lucky we all are to just be alive and that alone is how we get lucky; by just living, thinking, remembering and loving music with people we connect with.

The six minute version of the track is fun, funky and enjoyable to the fade out. The stripped back section of the track with just Pharrell's vocals, is perfection and the build up to the full song, halfway through the track is a complement to Daft Punk's previous albums and pop music alike. I do have a minor issue with the transition from Williams track and Daft Punk's vocoder section, like in Instant Crush feels a bit off, like it was tacked on rather than transitioned. It could definitely understand people skipping this track on the play through, but personally, I'm not bored of it in the slightest. I think it's a solid track that will be played through the ages at dance clubs and parties along side One More Time and Around the World.

Beyond begins sounding like a Hollywood musical. With incredible strings calling out to the heavens but there is more melody and repetition to it. The looped violins transition slowly into a great funk beat and vocoder voice that captures you and doesn't let you go. The song feels shorter than it actually is, despite clocking almost five minutes. The song's lyrics are undoubtedly positive and uplifting and this is where Daft Punk really differs from most dance and electro acts lyrically. Rather than focusing on an aspirational or drink/party-culture lifestyle, they journey within and look at the emotional core of their music and their lives. They bring it out melodically and lyrically with creating verses that make us look at ourselves and know that we have more potential beyond what we think and how we can get there. Beyond is a fantastic track which keeps the funky perpetual motion of this album going and shows how far Daft Punk differs from the pack.

Motherboard starts off feeling very loose. The percussion is heavy and syncopated while being forged over a strong set of strings and a looped synth track. The song transitions into darker and moodier territory through what sounds like an on-coming storm being run backwards and it sounds improbable. The track is definitely darker and more atmospheric than the other tracks but has a strange journey quality to it. The one thing I've always loved about Daft Punk albums is their use of instrumentals. I know a lot of their tracks don't have lyrics or use samples, but there is always one pure instrumental track that has so much life and care put into it, it's impossible not to listen to on repeat. Discovery has Voyager, Human After All has Make Love and RAM has Motherboard. It's a fantastic track, and while it could be considered a rejected track from the TRON Legacy soundtrack, it fits perfectly in the album as we prepare for the homestretch.

Fragments of Time feels like an unreleased Police track as it begins with Todd Edwards vocals just completely owning the track. While it's probably my least favourite track, it still offers a level of complexity and fun with the tune. The echoing synth is great to listen to and compliments the keyboard and guitar riffs that permeate the entire track. It's at this point I really notice how guitar-heavy the whole album really is and how it wouldn't be too out of place being played in a bar with Boz Scaggs, Rush or maybe even the Doobie Brothers on a jukebox. Let me say this, I imagine if I played this track for my Dad, he'd somehow enjoy it.

Our penultimate track, Doin' It Right features Animal Collective's Panda Bear does not mess around for a song. The song starts with an 80's hip hop beat and some great digital lyrics, while it begins to build complimenting one another. Panda Bear's Beach Boys-like harmony is just marvelous listen to. It's like Pet Sounds banged Discovery and it's all come to this: Doin' It Right is an unbelievable track and definitely my favourite from the album. It's a fun and emotional ride and I feel represents Daft Punk's own mantra: Everybody will be dancing and we’re doing it right/
If you lose your way tonight, that’s how you know the magic’s right/
If you do it right, let it go all night
It's an incredible track that reminds us that they've been doing this a long time, they know how to do it and is perfect in its lyrical simplicity.

The last track is Contact. The track does feel like a farewell song, with it's opening voice sounding like an old NASA recording. The song feels incredibly epic and on the path of final tracks like Too Long from Discovery. It's an anthem track that I can imagine closing future tour sets and just making the crowd go wild. The drum beats sound crystal clear and don't overcrowd the synth melody. It feels like the track will keep reaching higher and higher before finally ending with a soft fade out. It's a perfect condensation of the previous twelve tracks and it leaves room between the beats to let the synth add to the build up. The track continues to gain momentum and builds with reversed bits of music and the sound of breathing. Contact is made. We've all come this far together and it sounds like the tape runs out and we're left with nothing but silence. Perfection.

Overall, the album is a delight to listen to over and over again. Without using samples, focusing all their talent in natural instrumentation and collaborating with some incredible people, Daft Punk have matured beyond just being a dance group or electronica composers and into something else entirely. I honestly believe this album is definitely up there with Discovery, one of my personal Perfect Albums and while there is a lot there to turn some people off, fans will love every single second of the album. It's not a party album, it's not a dance album, this is Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. The album is a reflection of their own past and how they love the concept of fusing technology and humanity and they've definitely done so here. The human soul and heart of music employing the technology to make us feel how important it all really is and how we can share it. It's a bold emotional and enjoyable ride that I hope others can enjoy as much as I have.

Highlight Song: Doin' It Right is a testament to the lyrical and musical enjoyment that you can get out of Daft Punk. It's a track that emphasises the importance of a party atmosphere, creativity in music and pure enjoyment we can get out of musicians when they're doing it right. Panda Bear's vocals and contribution to the album is something that, without him, would make me feel that Random Access Memories would be missing something grand.

Thanks again for reading things that I write and while I may update this blog in the future, I feel I need to start fresh for a multitude of reasons and I know I'm always going to feel that way until I feel more emotionally, financially and experientially secure. See you in a few weeks time.

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