Label: Daft Life/Columbia
We're going to assume that when you heard Daft Punk was releasing their fourth album, you weren't expecting that everyone's favorite space-helmeted androids had evolved into a pair of California Dreamin', '70s-era disco-rockers. However, a look at the progression of their career, from 1997's Homework to 2001's Discovery, 2005's Human After All through Random Access Memories, you'd notice that each new project (not counting the Tron: Legacy soundtrack they produced) has found them moving gradually away from their purely-electronic beginnings. They've relied less on computers, used more and more instrumentation each time. So Random Access Memories, which uses beat machines and samplers sparringly, makes perfect sense in the arc of their career.
They spent over $1 million assembling musicians (and equipment) to help recreate the vintage sound they were looking for, turning in an authentic homage to the disco and rock music that thrived when they were young kids. Shedding their "electronic" exoskeleton, they called upon their heroes (Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Williams), previous associates (Todd Edwards, Chilly Gonzales, DJ Falcon), and other assorted artists (Julian Casablancas, Pharrell Williams, Panda Bear) to help give voice to their project, which is explained in the title of the first track: "Give Life Back to Music."
The smash hit "Get Lucky" gives a good understanding of the headspace that Daft Punk is in right now, but so are beautiful, sprawling numbers like the "Doin It Right" or "Lose Yourself to Dance." Both highlight the repetition in phrases, and how great lyrics can be transformed into vital pieces of music in their own right. "Giorgio By Moroder" features the electronic music innovator in his own voice, speaking autobiographically, before Daft Punk kick out the jam-as-homage. The theatrical "Touch" builds on the android-discovers-human-emotion theme familiar to fans of dystopian sci-fi movies, whereas "Contact" transports you directly to Cape Canaveral during liftoff. And that's the point: Random Access Memories isn't today's EDM. It's not just a collection of songs. It's an album that's supposed to be taken in as a whole, as if it's on an 8-track and you only have it to last you during a road trip. And it makes perfect sense in the story that is Daft Punk's career so far. One reflected (with just a little stretch) in their album titles: Two French robots do their Homework and make the Discovery that they are truly Human After All-as if these Random Access Memories were tiny fragments of experience that they'd had before but forgotten; a lifetime flashing before their, and so now our, eyes. It's truly an album to sit and grow with. —Khris Davenport