Since 1997, Daft Punk have been a monolith in dance music. Even those with only a vague interest in music will know their name, and everyone knows the vocoded splendour of “One More Time”, Around The World and countless other Daft Punk game-changers. Silent in the music media stretching back even to around the time of 2010’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack, Daft Punk have been incubating the seminal electronic music album.
It’s early days to call this a masterpiece, but on first, second, and third listens Random Access Memories evokes enough enthusiasm in me to use the word. Album opener “Give Life Back To Music” begins the journey not unlike David Bowie’s Starman, with rising guitars and pianos but soon drops off into a smooth trademark Daft Punk jam. Vocoded vocals are one of the staples of this album - unlike previous Daft Punk records where they played a bit part - Daft Punk are singing on almost every song on this record. Nile Rodgers’ guitar influence on this track and most others is unmistakable and absolutley crucial to capturing the sound of disco that Daft Punk have been so notoriously trying to capture on this album. Give Life Back To Music sets an early precedent and the album never fails to meet or exceed that precedent. Melancholy vocoders wobble over the rainy Game of Love, punctuated by electric jazz pianos and a rumbling bassline.
“Giorgio By Moroder” is the first of several musical peaks that the album has, an odyssey of dance and disco music narrated by electronic pioneer Giorgio Moroder. At the song’s crescendo, live drums and soaring strings are the centrepiece before it busts right back into vintage synth arpeggios. Within props itself gently between Giorgio and the awesome “Instant Crush” which takes cue from the Strokes and has a distinctly Strokes feel to it, though Julian Casablancas’ vocals are vocoded and the music is largely synth and bass. “Lose Yourself To Dance” is the second of three Nile Rodgers collaborations and Rodgers’ impact is felt most fondly on this track, as Rodgers’ guitar and Pharrell Williams’ vocals bounce off of each other. “Touch” is a briefly jarring track as former Carpenter Paul Williams takes up vocal duties for a track which halves the album perfectly, switching from strictly disco and electronic influences to an Elton John-esque piano break and children’s choirs covering the length of the song. Daft Punk have made a very clear statement on Touch as with the rest of the album: their vision for making music isn’t at the mercy of anyone’s prejudice. Daft Punk have made a record that is an album in the same way that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon is an album - start to finish, the album doesn’t break stride covering a plethora of influences and ambitions.
The second half of the album is a fitting partner to the first, with “Beyond” capturing the sound of the 80s with another smooth jam, a little bit soft rock, but still not far from “Digital Love” or “Something About Us”, where “Doin’ It Right” matches Daft Punk’s original minimalism and teams up with Animal Collective’s Panda Bear for something new. “Contact” is an album closer to close all album closers. Daft Punk have done something really special on Random Access Memories and I’m not sure what it is, but 2013 is now officially the Year of the Robot.