Random Access Memories
by Daft Punk
Going Up? Watch your head.
The Daft Punk stage specially commission by Sony for
The Daft Punk stage specially commission by Sony for
2013 Wee Waa Festival, Australia, the
live uncovering of the top secret album
Random Access Memories
Knowing that so many people shop online now, Daft Punk have decided to bring some of the most bland (and badly performed) elevator style music to your own home now. So you can shop whilst sitting right at your computer and hear digital, digital-age elevator music without even the dizziness or sense of hemmed-in claustrophobia coming from being in a 4 square meter space without windows. Unfortunately, though, that might come anyway without the movement up and down stories, just from this nauseating music.
One might guess that the music was also conceived in a 4 square meter space without windows and those strange beings who dress up as robots did research over a year or so in going up and down, whilst writing the music there also, eventually.
Random is right. That's what you're given by the people whom, once, you could be fairly sure to trust about every segment seeming to be very well chosen by very aware, intelligent, sympathetic, understanding, hard working music producers. Daft Punk never seemed to be the kind of musicians who might be able, for example, to produce a stage or film soundtrack on directions by producers for "5 minutes here", "12 minutes there", "20 minutes there". They had a wise knack of knowing short pieces of music based around short hooks. It's some achievement to be able to make or choose those very hooks and develop a short, concise, apt track around them.
This album, whatever you make of it musically, is NOT by any means Electronic Dance Music or, usually much to do with EDM, or if you like the spectrum of 80s and later house club music, with the odd exception such as parts of (yes, parts of, because everything is a shocking, confounding mess) "Gorgio by Moroder".
I'm not whatsoever reacting particularly to the duo's decision to make music outside of their old EDM, house - club electronic frame of production. Like many others, I'm all for diversity and for being adventurous. I'd agree totally with the spirit that says sticking in the same, weathered club house electronica frame would probably be much worse than doing something new or adventurous. However, it seems that the duo have lost their creative talent, their know-how, whatever the genre.
I read recently that they'd tried to make some new club electronica for an album a few years ago, but even they concluded the stuff stank, and it was withdrawn, binned, never published. So, they decided instead to try to learn how to be jazz and psychedelic pop-rock musicians.
Tron soundtrack days (2010 / 11)
They don't have a clue, unless that is the point, in keeping with some of the duo's old expressive, conceptual art concepts. These may be seen as "Illuminati style unseen controllers ruin musicians all over the world" and "So, the robots or controlled puppets are unable to manifest as normal humans and make some good, real, living music." And if it is the point to not have a clue, it only means that they really, really don't have a clue about making this kind of music for such a focus is worse than it coming "naturally". And it sounds it. It really does. It sounds so conceited and framed, staged and effected.
OK, these guys aren't stupid it seems, from past evidence. Now they've set out to make a modern jazz - fusion record which would normally be in the smooth soul kind of area, but they throw in vocoders like you'd throw a banging bin-lid into, say, the nicer Spanish style styles of Maurice Ravel, or someone like Miles Davis. Even the machine like vocoder voices sound as if they're doing it against their will, only because they've been made to. That's a very specific thing to do, but the duo seem not to be able to show respect to the meaning and worth of that genre alone, strangely going down serious psychedelic rock and avant-garde 70s pop-rock music-theatre alleyways at the same time. Who would think of mixing up these musical worlds? More than that, they believe it's time to add an old 50s to modern day West Coast USA flavour of music to the already very odd cauldron.
From the RAMs album live premiere in Australia, 2013
I can't accept that Daft Punk aren't completely aware of that the music clearly sounds framed, staged, conceited, effected, unnatural, highly ridiculous. I think they may have done this deliberately, such is the quite extremist strangeness of their conceptual performance art idea (which is something unrelated to pure musicianship art), and the fetishist strangeness of this album. It's a completely different kind of art. That the music is not good is what is aimed at. Their GQ exclusive interview (still available in the Web) shows the duo tending to try to make clear that novel direness may be exactly the point. They thought people would think "it sucks", and while they think it's genuinely, honestly bad to stay in the same creative style rut, they decided to make record which kind of "sucks".
I can't help feeling that this is Daft Punk's attempt to bow out of the spotlight, to go down, perhaps in a huge flash of light. There had to be a perhaps there, for they say they could not predict the reaction to the album. They've said they expected the opposite. I kind of feel sorry for them that so few people have taken their production as what I believe they meant it to be, and so many have taken the awful music at face value, but thinking it is good. I fully respect the duo's right to make any kind of sounds they wish to. I think this is a rebellion statement, against numerous things perhaps, and I believe that the group, of course, know better than anyone that the music of this album, taken as music alone and without further meaning, is nothing to be proud of.
(Except, that is, perhaps, in just expressing feelings such as in therapeutic music creative sessions - which I think is very important for anyone to be able to do, also to the general public if desired. But need it be something to set the duo up financially for the next 10 or so high-spending years? The film they decided to release in very limited editions is great, Electroma. I love it, it's a landmark piece of cinema, and it ought to be able to be seen without feeling one is sneaking cursory, seemingly under-the-table glances in a low resolution Youtube upload version. This album, though, is one they ought to have kept for a release numbered in very low thousands. I feel strongly about this because it's like we're being told, being force-fed, strongly, that "this is modern culture", and even, "it's good". That's the kind of thing that both the media and the modern user-created media communications reality does.)
The last big question - flavour of the decade in these conspiracy theory obsessed times, Daft Punk's own long-term obsession also - is, is this some kind of rather purposefully bad, tongue-in-cheek album merely because of their long term Illuminati style control in music art theme alone? The question is, are the themes and purposes which I find to be behind RAMs purely to be taken as art (Interstellar 5555, Electroma, Human After All etc.)? Or is there really someone behind them making them act like puppets against their wills, as the stories were to suggest for musicians generally?
I'm struck by the staged, absolutely still characters in the Capricorn One evoking Mars video set to Get Lucky who suddenly move on cue near the end, as if the unseen fat controller had just clicked his fingers, or raised their puppet strings. It leads to wondering, of course, and considering they're making so much money out of this, of is, were / are the guys in the control of musicians gang after all? These people make their music on tour right in the middle of a big Illuminati style symbolic pyramid. What's the point? What are they doing? Are they perhaps saying they're put there, unable to choose. Or are they making the statement, hell, look, we just go a little further in our diversions than the other bands who know the handshakes and symbols to get the money and suppress the real creativity out there?
Does the Get Lucky clip with frozen then suddenly moving figures seem like a Mars set?
Mars in a warehouse studio, Capricorn One (1978)
Anyway, I think, perhaps it's not so much worth dwelling on when the music alone is that poor. If it were a good album that managed to express similar things, to ask the same questions by a different means, everything would be different. It's a big thing to make inferior music to go into other peoples' sensitive ears kind of on purpose, perhaps behind the cloak of serious art. Still, I'll always feel at least a bit sorry for them that they've somehow felt they had to make this particular album (or maybe, any album at all, anything), and yet, the people can't see it for what it is. Sympathy might be due where the duo discover that most of the fans will love and take as without subtext anything with a sheen, high quality studio recording values (not the Daft Punk original values at all, this) rather than musical values, and a hip marketing crusade.
While I know most people will only consider this album as on face value, and will think it is good music (it's not), I suppose there are people who will buy the album for the social significance, the event-like nature of it, the conceptual art identity I've been trying to describe. However, at the end of the day, to me, it's torture, it really is. I've rarely been so annoyed and pecked at and hurt by a piece of music, it feels like a quite sadistic thing. If Daft Punk really are making the conceptual art statements I've suggested here, by in a deadpan fashion making very inferior music, they'd really need to have guns held at their backs by those Illuminati style controllers (in the mould of Dmitri Shostakovich) for me to appreciate this as expressive performance art. While I don't wish that on anyone, of course, I wouldn't bother with the art concept in itself, otherwise. Give my ears and brain a break, please, I'd say.
Sasha Frere-Jones, New Yorker magazine, notes the robot mask allusion to art of Jackson's Thriller