Random access to Daft Punk’s new album

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Daft Punk are one of the most tech-savvy artists out there – just one reason why their hotly anticipated new album release isn’t only of interest to the music press. Here the deputy editor of award-winning tech magazine T3, Matt Hill, gives his perspective following a first listen of the dance duo’s comback album, Random Access Memories…

[Originally published on Music Week]

Topping social-media trends for days and subsequently becoming the most streamed track ever on Spotify and number one on iTunes in 50 different countries, Daft Punk’s comeback has been as sleek and tech-fuelled as you would expect from two gleaming musical robots trussed up in Saint Laurent.

Harnessing the many tentacles of Twitter and YouTube that hadn’t existed eight years ago when they last released a studio album, the Parisian dance-pair’s return has become the most talked-about of the year.

Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manyel de Homem-Christo had first teased Random Access Memories, their full-length follow up to 2005’s Human After All, through clever, retro-tinged shorts on Saturday Night Live and at Coachella Festival. Yet after its internet explosion, T3 was invited to hear the album in its full, 80-minute glory at Sony’s London offices.

While the funky, Pharrell Williams- and Nile Rodgers-starring ‘Get Lucky’ had hinted towards a disco revival suite on the way to becoming the public’s default summer soundtrack in waiting, the rest of the 13 tracks are surprisingly more prog-rock exploration than dancefloor-filler.

“Electronic music right now is in its comfort zone and it’s not moving one inch,” Bangalter told Rolling Stone recently. “That’s not what artists are supposed to do. We wanted to do what we used to do with machines and samplers but with people.”

Daft Punk have stayed good to their word, with only the last track, ‘Contact’, containing any samples at all (The Sherbs’ ‘We Ride Tonight’, in case you wondered), the rest built around an ever-shifting roster of musicians, including Gonzalez, Panda Bear, DJ Falcon and ridiculously good percussionist Quinn, who owns the set’s second half.

At its most lightweight, ‘Random Access Memories’ is incredibly catchy, riding a fine line between homage and pastiche, classic and cheese. The sure-to-be-a-single ‘Instant Crush’ with Julian Casablancas sounds like Air remixing The Strokes covering Last Christmas, while insistent clap-along ‘Lose Yourself To Dance’ sees Pharrell’s falsetto rise over a chorus of digital “Come Ons”.

Yet there are huge heaps of experimentation here as ’60s, ’70s and ’80s music-tech excesses overlap, from Frampton-esque voiceboxes to “world” drum wigouts and large chunks of slap bass. ‘Giorgio by Moroder’ samples the titular Italian music legend describing his life while nine minutes of morphing sounds join the dots between Cerrone, Can and War of the Worlds.

Then Oscar-winning composer Paul Williams takes over the OTT double-header of ‘Touch’ and ‘Beyond’, the former a Broadway tune that references Bowie and The Beatles before employing a whole choir for its “Hold on!” climax, the latter managing to sounds like a Dave Gilmour live noodleathon and a Michael McDonald AOR radio ballad all at once.

“These are songs that travelled into five studios over two and a half years,” says Bangalter of a set that was recorded in the likes of New York’s Electric Lady Studio as well as similarly eulogised establishments in Los Angeles and Paris. “Today, electronic music is made in airports and hotel rooms, by DJs travelling. It’s not the same vibe.”

This shunning of a digital past for an analogue celebration could have tripped up lesser duos, but while it may alienate some, Daft Punk’s exhausting inventiveness keeps the album pushing the new rather than simply wading in nostalgia, cutting up its inspirations manually rather than with software.

And with the album’s PC-referencing title (“We were drawing a parallel between the brain and the hard drive,” adds Bangalter), the ever-present robotic visage and the unashamed remix fodder on the record, it’s still the techiest musical comeback of the year.

Random Access Memories by Daft Punk is out May 21 on Columbia, daftpunk.com

You can also listen to T3’s Daft Punk influences playlist on Spotify, curated by editor Luke Peters, here 

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