Let’s play one final bass-drop requiem in memory of EDM. If the genre hasn’t already been wub-wub-wub‘d to death, Daft Punk would like to smother it with its own spirit hoodie. True, the duo’s Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo helped spawn this new wave of harder, faster, stronger dance music — but lately, they’ve been slagging off that scene for its lack of imagination and its overreliance on preset sounds. Of course, that only makes Random Access Memories, their first proper album in eight years, feel more like a revelation: It features no electronics except for a modular synthesizer and some vintage vocoders, and uses only one sample. (A snippet from the Sherbs’ ”We Ride Tonight” opens the final track, ”Contact.”) Recorded in the studio with an orchestra, a children’s choir, and an all-star cast that includes Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers, Julian Casablancas, Panda Bear, and Giorgio Moroder, it’s a headphones album in an age of radio singles; a bravura live performance that stands out against pro forma knob-twiddling; a jazzy disco attack on the basic house beat; a full collaboration at a time when the superstar DJ stands alone. It’s also quite moving; melancholy runs through every song.
As the title suggests, RAM explores the way that memory is stored — on a hard drive or in your brain. Nostalgia is a major theme here, both in the music, which celebrates disco (first single ”Get Lucky”), funk (”Give Life Back to Music”), and classic sci-fi soundtracks (”Contact”), and in the lyrics, which often feature men of a certain age reckoning with the past. ”Giorgio by Moroder” begins with the disco godfather recalling the days when he stayed out all night and slept in his car, while the music vividly evokes each decade he describes, building from a dramatic string section to record-scratching to a synth-pop finale that plays out like an epic laser-tag game. Later, Todd Edwards wants to ”feel like I’m 17” on the pedal-steel daydreamer ”Fragment of Time,” and the wistful ”Touch” finds Paul Williams looking back on young love: ”I remember touch,” he sighs through a vocoder, as spaceship sounds fire off. ”You’ve given me too much to feel/ You’ve almost convinced me I’m real.” You don’t know whether you?re supposed to imagine him playing a sad HAL 9000 or a lonely astronaut. And maybe that’s the point: It’s hard to tell the difference between people and machines in dance music these days. But if EDM is turning humans into robots, Daft Punk are working hard to make robot pop feel human again. A
”Giorgio By Moroder” A disco odyssey that explains the genre’s back story
”Touch” A robot lament