If you were any where near Twitter on Monday, you know that the insanely hyped new Daft Punk record, Random Access Memories, leaked to the Internet. With all the money and production effort went into making all those millions of advance teaser videos, you know the label had to be pretty bummed that they couldn’t quite get over the finish line by posting their own legal stream first, though they obviously had one ready (if you also didn’t know that somehow, it’s on iTunes and available to stream directly to the cave you are living in). In large part because they were so persistent in teasing their audience into an absolute frenzy, this is the biggest deal leak we’ve seen in a while. It feels like 2007! But now that it’s out, we’re at that magic moment when totally over the top hype curdles into totally over it snark.
Because I think the fast-forming consensus is that this is a much less dance-floor ruling summer blast of an album than everyone was hoping for. The words “smooth jazz disco” may have been thrown around freely. Would it be unfair to say that for all their outsized focus on live, real instrumentation, Daft Punk might need computers to actually make proper club bangers? Probably. Gotta sit with it for a while, to fully come to that conclusion. We’re no enemy of subtlety! But the duo’s focus on universal appeal, simple mantras, and physical effect is so well-established that a slow-burn 70s soft rock thinker of an album is a sort of bait and switch?
The songs that stand out on first, second, third listen for me are “Instant Crush” featuring Strokes singer Julian Casablancas, and “Doin’ It Right” featuring vocals by Animal Collective’s Panda Bear. That’s kind of weird, right? Those guys were the odd ducks on the floated list of collaborators which featured more than one bonafide dance music legend. They were the hardest to imagine fit for a record that had a stated goal of “bringing dance music back to life.” As two of the most emulated singers of their slightly overlapping eras, they do make sense in a roll call of big deal popular acts. But who would have thought they could steal this show?
If placed on a Strokes record, “Instant Crush” probably would have been sarcastically crushed for “trying too hard.” But it’s quite pretty and graceful, really. Channeling Casablancas’ distinctively aloof phrasing through a series of vocoders is sort of brilliant, given that it’s sounded like Julian’s been singing through a megaphone all along. It’s got a sad 80s chug to it that makes it sound like a soundtrack inclusion for some teen movie from 25 years ago, or 3 years from now. As far as its dance music utility? It might be a prom slow dance song at a pretty weird prom.
“Doin’ it Right” is even better, more upbeat and simple. Panda Bear repeats circular mantras, overlain with some from the Robots. The repetitiveness, delivered in Panda’s airy school boy tone, delivers on the promise to take Daft Punk’s looped sound and transform it into something that sounds human. It’d also be near poisonous on a dance floor, I bet.
I think the best thing you can say about it Random Access Memories on early impression is that it feels like a true collaboration. The particular voices of each track’s guest stars come through very clearly. What’s in question is whether or not that spotlight comes at the expense of of the thudding, primal power that made Daft Punk so influential in electronic party music’s rise to commercial powerhouse status.