What’s most immediately striking about Daft Punk’s first studio effort in almost a decade is its warmth.
Despite being released in 2013, Random Access Memories deliberately evokes the analog pleasures of dance music circa Saturday Night Fever, when men, not machines, made the sounds setting bodies in motion. For whatever advances computers have allowed in music, there’s nothing like hearing Nile Rodgers’ guitar licks pouring out of your speakers.
The irony of Daft Punk electing to almost entirely forgo the ease of digital technology to create one of the year’s most anticipated albums further deepens when considering Daft Punk’s influence as an electronic act. The duo of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo were ahead of the curve in the late ’90s, wowing critics and synth-pop aficionados with early LPs like 1997’s Homework and 2001’s breakthrough Discovery (which featured the hit single One More Time).
Random Access Memories dispenses with chilly synths and mechanical repetition, resulting in a wonderful retro-futuristic aesthetic, an album where hip producer Pharrell Williams and Strokes lead singer Julian Casablancas can be found working comfortably alongside synth pioneer Giorgio Moroder and singer-songwriter Paul Williams, whose biggest contributions to the pop-culture canon hark back to the Nixon administration.
Lead single Get Lucky is a supple showcase for Daft Punk’s intentions, goosed by Rodgers’ golden fretwork and an irresistible beat, doubtless intended to be the summer anthem for hipsters the world over.
But Daft Punk clearly has more on its mind than mere posturing; Random Access Memories is at its best when it works the seam between sentimentality and style. As Williams puts it, on the LP’s emotional centerpiece, Touch, “I need something more.” Another bathetic highlight is the nine-minute Giorgio by Moroder, which features the influential musician discussing his life and work against a dense sonic tapestry.
By reconnecting with its youthful inspirations, and tastefully blending the past with the present, Daft Punk has made Random Access Memories to be cherished.