May 10, 2013


First Listen: Daft Punk's 'Random Access Memories' Track by Track

Ever seen a room of pretentious music journalists clap in sheer awe and ecstasy? Well, it happened recently at Columbia Records' Manhattan offices, where a group of journos gathered to hear Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, the most hyped and anticipated album of 2013 (so far, at least). 

Beer, wine and cheese and fruit flowed, and paper-fold Daft Punk helmets were distributed (here's a picture of me wearing one). This was Daft Punk mania reaching those who, by job description, are supposed to be immune. But no one is safe from Random Access Memories.

A Columbia employee entrusted with the album entered the room, instructions to "please not record" were repeated and the "play" button pressed. Welcome to the most epic album of 2013. In broad brush strokes, the LP nods to '70s California prog-funk (even Lionel Richie and Hall & Oates, y'all) with heavy doses of vintage electronic keyboards and porn-style, chicka-chicka funk guitar tones. The robot duo even get (gasp!) introspective, mournful and downright sad. 

Here's what it sounds like...

1. "Give Life Back to Music" 

A glittery, super-charged, arena-rock intro (think '70s Bowie-meets-jet engine) rises, then settles into a funk-groove with guitar (courtesy of Nile Rodgers) not unlike Kool & the Gang's "Too Hot." Enter robotic vocals singing a mournful (yes, mournful) melody: "Turn on the music of your life." It's an homage to the dance floor and you'll wanna bust out some Travolta dance moves, a la Saturday Night Fever.

2. "The Game of Love"

Sexy and groovy, this track recalls '70s prog-funk Stevie Wonder and even Lionel Richie. It's an electric keyboard-apalooza. "There is a game of love / This is the game of love / And it was you / You break my heart when you decided to walk away," the duo sing. A super smooth ice-synth melody enters to tropical salsa percussion. Babies will be made. This is the sound of robots f-cking.

3. "Giorgio by Moroder" ft. Giorgio Moroder

It's the LP's super-epic centerpiece: The Italo-disco pioneer recites a monologue about his life in music, from picking up his first guitar to crafting a futuristic sound via synths, then BAM: Night Rider-style beats stalk and... damn, this just kicks ass. There's electric keyboards, guitar solo breakdowns, twists and turns and powerful orchestral sounds. It all ends in a freak-out collision of keys, synths, drums and guitar, rising and rising and rising. Journalists literally clapped afterwards.

4. "Within"

It's the sound of robots crying. A jazzy piano opening meets electric keyboards, then the duo lament, "There are so many things that I don't understand / There's a world that I can't find see / Many rooms to explore but the doors look the same / I am lost, I can't even remember my name." Whoa.

5. "Instant Crush" ft. Julian Casablancas

It's Room on Fire-era Strokes meets New Wave rockers the Cars. The upbeat, electric chorus has Casablancas pleading about a crush over laser-like guitar riffs and futuristic rock vibe.

6. "Loose Yourself to Dance" ft. Pharrell Williams

It's yet another ode to the dance floor. It's slick, '70s funk, almost like a parody of the background music in porn videos. Funk guitar locks with a hard four on floor beat, then Williams' silky-smoth voice enters: "Loose yourself to dance / Loose yourself to dance / Take my shirt and wipe up all your sweat." Then the robots back him up: Come on, come on, come on, come on!"

7. "Touch" ft. Paul Williams

To get the ultimate sunny, West Coast soft-rock sound, the French duo went to the source: Paul Williams. This folk-prog jam packs it all in: Floating outer space keys, harpsichord jangle, trumpets, trombone, tuba and bassoon. At times, it sounds more like a Parisian vaudeville saloon band than EDM's leading duo. "Touch, I remember touch, a painter in my mind, a tourist in a dream / A half forgotten song, where do I belong," Williams coos. The robo voice responds: "Hold on if love is the answer you want / Hold on if love is the answer..." Angelic backup singers rise and those frantic, bee-swarm-a-comin' strings enter. The production is awe-striking. 

8. "Get Lucky" ft. Pharrell Williams

9. "Beyond"

It's the most futuristic, Tron-leaning on the LP: Big orchestra strings kick it off, then it's all funk guitar and into-deep-space keys: "Neon lights / You will find your soul / Close your eyes and rise / Neon love come alive," the robots sing. "You are the light beyond the ocean / You are the end of the beginning where time is not allowed." These robots are gettin' awful heavy.

10. "Motherboard"

This instrumental, sure to be ubiquitously sampled for the next few years, is a patchwork of the LP's most disparate sounds: Hard percussion, strings and flute, oozing sounds and boiling water effects, electro-glitter rock and deep bass. We end with a dripping-water sound. It's a trippy dance voyage.  

11. "Fragments of Time" ft. Todd Edwards

With house producer Todd Edwards, Daft Punk have crafted possibly the greatest driving song, ever. It's a total Hall & Oates nod and it's on a road to paradise: "Sun in my eyes / If I had my way I would never leave / Turning our days into melodies."

12. "Doin' It Right" ft. Panda Bear

Who knew the Animal Collective whiz was down for disco? "Everybody will be dancing and feeling it right, doing it right," he instructs in his trademark reverb-soaked vocal. "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." The disco-factor occasionally risks becoming a bit corny (it's off-putting to hear such an experimental-minded artist on a crowd-pleasing anthem) but it's simultaneously its selling point. 

13. "Contact"

It's the LP's moody instrumental closer. It opens with recorded chatter between astronauts: "It's definitely not a particle / It's a bright object way out in the distance / As we look back at the earth it's at about 11 o'clock / There's something out there." There is! Church organ floats then it's drum beat craziness and total synth meltdown. A jet-engine sound rises and rises and rises in increasing in velocity, then: Weewwweeeewwwwweee!!!