I have never avidly listened to Daft Punk before, but the momentous hype which surrounded Random Access Memories compelled me to indulge myself in some electric dance music. Yet, I wasn’t indulged in electric dance music, I listened to a frankly random mix of sounds, which only rarely was satisfying.
For the first time, Daft Punk have focussed primarily on live instruments, and have introduced a far ‘funkier’ feel than in previous albums. I really do like the instrumental moments in this album – in essence it’s ‘feel good’ music, with an electric twist. The introduction of a synthesiser now and then is welcome, and is interesting, but the vocoder which engulfs the majority of vocals makes me cringe at times.
For example, Within, the fourth track on the album develops into an ambient piano tune, which with the addition of a few effects, becomes an impressive mixture of sounds. But then the vocals arrive, and they are truly dreadful. I get the sense that some real emotion is going into the voice, yet it is hidden, feels wrong, and is uncomfortable to listen to. I can’t accustom myself to this sound however hard I try – the vocoder absolutely ruins this song. I’m aware that it makes part of Daft Punk’s style, but they really were not successful in forming what could have been an interesting fusion of genres. The vocoder is less out-of-place in Instant Crush where the backing music is more regular and could be classed as ‘pop’. Where the electronic voice is used as backing, it also is less offensive such as in Lose Yourself to Dance, but I can’t say I like it. Only once did I really like the electronic vocals, and that was in Doin’ It Right, which is a catchy mix of real and vocoded voice, electronic instruments and live instruments, and is a glimmer of hope for this fusion genre.
There are some shining songs, but these heavily moderate their use of auto tune. Get Lucky comes in at a full 6 minutes of funk, an awesome baseline, and feel-good vocals. I love the twists of electronica in here, as they are not overused. Motherboard and Contact are brilliantly ambient and powerful tracks at times; Contact is the final track, and a personal favourite. A notable mention must also go to Giorgio by Moroder which introduces spoken word into its 9 minute run time. It’s a good listen, and doesn’t fall victim to the failures of the other early tracks on the album. It does real singing, with real instruments, and a generous helping of synthesiser, which in this case, is well moderated.
For a time, I thought I just didn’t get Daft Punk’s sound. But I think I do. I understand what they are trying to do, and I know that a fusion of Funk, Pop and Dance, is ambitious and clever, but I also truly believe it’s hard to pull off. And Daft Punk didn’t pull it off. If it wasn’t for the occasional track which encompasses real vocals and sometimes beautiful ambience, I would say that this was a bad album. But I see glimmers of genius amongst some painful listening. Sporadic excellence is there, but is being held down by that frustratingly overused vocoder, which helps give this album its title: Random Access Memories.
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