Mastered by production legend Bob Ludwig (Jimi Hendrix, Madonna, Rolling Stones, The Who), Random Access Memories is Daft Punk’s fourth studio album—the French duo’s deepest and most anticipated dive into the big leagues. It was recorded using mostly live instruments and session musicians, limiting electronic instruments to a synthesizer, drum machines, and Kraftwerk-era vocoders.
Random Access Memories continues in the direction of analogue production, a divergence that will likely split a massive fanbase grown from Homework (1994) and Discovery (2001). Numerous tracks on Random Access Memories explore a lighter feeling and leave digital sounds to a surprisingly conscious minimum.
Born into elaborate auto-tuned vocals and robot head pieces, Daft Punk transforms elusive personality into a style used by many electronic acts since: RJD2’s welding suit and mask, Deadmou5’s iconic mouse mask, and SBTRKT with his African tribal mask, to name a few. The curious theory that electronic artists acquire robotic or cosmic personalities is one that audiences like to indulge. Perhaps it’s just easier to believe that mathematical techno and unknown sounds stem from a non-human trade—something that masks and method personalities certainly do support.
Daft Punk’s members chose to remind us they are human with the release of Random Access Memories, in which hard-hitting house repetitions cease to be a defining characteristic of the music.
Guest vocalists appear on almost half of RAM’s 13 tracks, taking down the tune distortions a substantial notch. Daft Punk’s creativity actively flourishes outward into a versatile spread of an album. It manages to create familiarity and provoke feeling through a mixture of heavily electronic sounds and intimate musical inclusions.
The lyrical sentiments of “Touch” and “Within” suggest a struggle with identity, as well as a desire to be understood on a personal level. “Within” is a relatively tame piano piece that explores a deep crisis of self-hood. Werner Herzog would do well to narrate the self-identity struggles deep within electronic music’s biggest, loudest, boldest masked performance duo. Daft Punk’s members might never remove their masks, but exposing themselves doesn’t seem to elicit fear anymore: “There’s a room within me that I can’t explain/Many rooms to explore, but they all look the same/I am lost, I can’t even remember my name.”
“Touch” is a melancholy mid-album adventure, introduced as the core of Random Access Memories around which all other tracks resonate. Paul Williams (The Muppets soundtrack; The Love Boat theme song) wrote and performed the song, contriving a narrative intonation likened to his characteristically animated voice. “Touch” twists and fluctuates with unique beauty as it surveys the senses involved with being human, experiencing feeling, and the shortfalls of both. Williams comments that the music speaks louder than the lyrics, and this track seems to become a turning point for Random Access Memory’s onward and increased energy.
The first and happiest single immediately follows, personifying RAM’s lively transition. Featuring the vocal energy of Pharrell, “Get Lucky” is hands down this summer’s perfect anthem. It indulges everyone aching to enjoy the good, the current moment—a sweet delight to accompany a rediscovered outdoor adventureland.
Pharrell also provides the untainted disco hook on “Lose Yourself To Dance,” another incredibly catchy standout. Panda Bear’s performance on “Doin’ It Right” is an indie-flamed viral success, as well as a testament to Daft Punk’s true task of letting oneself go: “If you lose your way tonight/that’s how you know the magic’s right.”
On the tail end of RAM, “Motherboard” is a marathon of rolling keys and revelatory tones, implying peace found at the origin of it all—welcome assurance for the fame-tainted electronic duo. It feels like a journey, a space-out accomplice, and a humble, heartfelt statement.
Random Access Memories closes with a six+ minute crescendo entitled “Contact,” reaching through the stars and past the comprehension of a multi-galaxy universe. Epic bliss aside, the song accentuates a Daft Punk characteristic that is less than due for special praise: formulaic melodies; recognizable progressions; and pop prototypes. “Contact” is about intergalactic curiosities and expanding the mind—praise be held that is a marvelous sentiment—but Daft Punk’s method to convey this is contained within the aforementioned prescriptions and shows little unique stray, considering the alien topic at hand. Maybe this doesn’t affect “Contact’s” enjoyability, but it is an apparent factor in the commercial success of Daft Punk’s new, strikingly pop-friendly music.
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories tracklist:
- “Give Life Back To Music”
- “The Game Of Love”
- “Giorgio By Moroder”
- “Instant Crush (feat. Julian Casablancas)”
- “Lose Yourself To Dance (feat. Pharrell Williams)”
- “Touch (feat. Paul Williams)”
- “Get Lucky (feat. Pharrell Williams)”
- “Fragments Of Time (feat. Todd Edwards)”
- “Doin’ It Right (feat. Panda Bear)”