JUNE 1995, at a quarry somewhere outside of Cleveland (in rural northeastern Ohio), I suddenly came to. I had been tripping balls on a two-week bender of excessive alcohol and a countless hallucinogenics of varying acronyms… ragged khaki shorts hung loose from my taut 6’2″ 177-pound frame, my dingy brown Pearl Jam “Choices” t-shirt was caked stained in body paint and mud of curious hues. My shoes were gone, and my long wild mane was matted against my face, smelling faintly of sweat, patchouli and sour tobacco. A raging rave that lasted a fortnight, the carnies had now packed up and disappeared — leaving scatted piles of lost souls awakening, blinking blindly in the dawn’s early light.
I had gone through the looking glass but was now back on earth. I had lived a waking dream where I saw my past, present, and future converge. But now, I was awake for real. The party was over.
This was the first thing I thought of as the final bars of Daft Punk‘s 2013 album Random Access Memories (closing track “Contact”) faded into a swirling, clicking, and liquid undulating denouement. I felt rode hard and put away wet. It was as exhilarating an experience as I’ve ever had with an album, and I’ve listened to some heavy shit in my day.
But this album is lovely. The best album of 2013, I’m prepared to say. Sweet and mellow like watermelon on a hot Summer day… just as sticky, and just as messy.
“…this album is so beautiful. I just want to hold its hand, kiss its cheek and dance with it…” (@magtweeto)
Of course, there are shortcomings. I mean, after all, it’s not perfect. There are some blind spots and some aspects that fall flat upon a closer and more scholarly listen. Mostly just technical and/or aesthetic quibbles that do not detract from the overall power of the work itself. Nitpicking, really.
For one… there are points where some of the songs become a bit overworn, even a trifle redundant.
While repetition and rhythmic development is foundational to this genre, it is preferred for pieces to build and expand with each turn. Though Guy-Man and Bangalter do this more often than not, there are a few rare moments where a producer should’ve informed our French friends that brevity is the soul of wit.
“Touch” is one example. It is lovely, still, it could remain just as so if a couple minutes were trimmed here and there. “Giorgio by Moroder,” another brilliant “mixed media” work, should really be two tracks.
There’s a certain amount of irony on this album (not surprising, considering the duo’s past works) but one can only hide behind a “Watch how we’re going to make this cheesy thing become clever!” postmodern guise for so long before it becomes trite. While Daft Punk carefully avoids this cynical pose overall, a certain Gallic pretension cannot help but bubble up to the surface. If they’re a trifle haughty, it’s earned. They’re satisfied because they know they’re turning lead into platinum. The progressive rock of Alan Parsons, the ballsy funk-jazz of Steely Dan, and the solid gold disco of Chic are each manifest in bold and dizzyingly creative ways — evoking a feel that is familiar and fresh at the same time.
I could see the sepia-tinged golden morning of my boyhood in south Florida, the AM Gold stylings of that day gloriously renovated into luscious oceanic shimmers. The big booty bounce of Soul Train, augmented with booster rockets. Tremolo twang played in deep space.
Still… hearkening back to the post-adolescent bacchanalia mentioned at the outset, as I lay back in my bed listening to this album, I felt myself transported within my own memories. The music brought to mind a kaleidoscope of visions, ideas I now master and those I yet hope to. I felt at peace, and yet stirred. I wanted to write music to answer the call I heard in theirs. I felt alive, and yet weary — as if I had been through an epic journey, and yet had further to go.
It is an album defined by the eras that influenced it… but Daft Punk doesn’t stop there. Like an artist who adores his masters, and yet hopes to surpass them, Daft Punk has put together the best pop album released thus far in this year of Our Lord 2013. The hype has already started, and I’m already tired of seeing their helmeted heads almost everywhere I look.
Nevertheless, Random Access Memories is that rarest of exceptions: an album that is not only worthy of hype, but deserving of wider acclaim.
Daft Punk has swung for the fences, and has driven one home.