Tag Archives: Music Reviews

Danny Brown – OLD

I can’t really say what it focuses on, because I don’t really know what it focuses on.

Oh man, Danny Brown. Anyone that made it to the end of XXX knows that Danny never really expected to make it this far – I mean, not that he never expected to make it this far in his career; the man clearly never expected to make it this far as in turn 32. Listening to XXX you get the sense Danny would have been unsurprised and satisfied going out at 27 – XXX  was a real piece of work, an album split straight down the middle into rigidly consistent A and B sides, first reveling in his notorious excess and then, jarringly, staring straight down the barrel of Danny’s former (and Detroit’s current) destitution in its latter half. XXX is one of my favourite bizarro-rap works of the last five years, no question, and to this day I have to convince friends to grind through its obtuse, grimy Side A to get to the introspective, calm-voiced Danny Brown that his yapping singles completely overshadow. In fact, any interview with Danny Brown is liable to induce the assumption that Danny must be some Avenue Q castaway; the druggy Muppet Henson never gave us. Danny’s unique in the respect that, in any given single or press announcement or interview, he sounds completely off his mind, at near-ODB levels. And maybe he is! Who cares! Because somewhere in there, past the weed and the pills he so notoriously enjoys, is a brilliant man whose flow and cadence still betray how bewildered and grateful he is to have made it this far, and whose supremely confident rhythm effortlessly careens over top of any beat thrown at him. See him live for proof of this. Danny Brown is bizarre; Danny Brown thinks he’s ODB. Danny Brown might be ODB. But then, I notoriously love weird for weird’s sake – so does OLD hold up to XXX‘s last-gasp-at-fame precision and kitchen-sink desperation?

I’m not convinced Danny is telling the truth in that quotation up there, where he pretends not to know wholesale what he’s up to. Somewhere behind the skinny jeans and the Skrillex hair hides a calculating and clever man, whose every move laser-sights him to greater exposure. RiFF RaFF can relate, I think, and so it’s something of a vogue time to be a rapper this strange. Make no mistake, Danny hasn’t let go of his puppy-bark flow or his blowjob jokes or his Molly shoutouts or his fixation with synthesizers. But for all that lovable/gross pop-culture weirdness, OLD is an obvious follow-up to XXX – to the extent that it more or less ignores the rest of his ridiculously-prolific output of late. The first half of OLD – and again he’s sequenced the album like vinyl, because he wants to be rapgame Bowie’s Low – comes at you like the knowing sequel to XXX‘s sober and sad B-side. On OLD’s Side A, Danny’s still alive somehow, and he’s still wrestling himself away from his Detroit street-life flashbacks. Artistically, that continuity makes sense. Fiscally speaking, Danny dropped “Grown Up”, “ODB”, “Dip” and “Kush Koma” since XXX released – and two of those tracks aren’t on the album at all, while the other two are buried on Side B. That means Side A is gutsy; I like gutsy. This is the sort of artistic license we get when a man like Danny, who ostensibly has no idea what he’s doing, is properly handed the wheel. Yes of course you bury the singles after you become a popstar – of course you keep Action Bronson and Kitty Pryde and your Bruiser Brigade and your hit singles far away from your commercial debut. You get to do that when you’re hugely popular and you’ve spent countless hours carefully convincing the pop world you’re insane.

Though it maintains that vinyl-side structural integrity, OLD does differ in a number of important ways. For one, Danny’s right: it isn’t as focused. Not at all – Side A (A is for Angsty) is all about giving us that “Old Danny Brown”, by which he means his J Dilla influences and his explicit raps about selling pounds of drugs, but also his flashbacks: “Torture” gives us a terrifying vignette of poverty and destitution. “Wonderbread” features a young Danny Brown getting curb-stomped over that same loaf that we remember from XXX. ‘Old Danny Brown’ means “The Return” too, on which we get Danny and Freddie Gibbs trading violence over Andre 3000’s “Return of the Gangsta” refrain (OLD‘s answer to “Grown Up”‘s ATCQ callback). “Dope Fiend” is a starkly juvenile rundown on Danny and Schoolboy Q’s evening activities (chorus: “Open wide ho”),  but tempers its ugly misogyny with an inescapable sense of desperation on both ends. The subject matter isn’t rare for Danny, even on the album where he promised us less blow-jobbery. To Danny’s credit, Schoolboy Q gets overexcited and scatters around the track unnecessarily; given more screen-time Danny’s trademark self-deprecation likely could have balanced the track. Or given us a reverse version of “I Will”. Who, really, can say. OLD‘s Side A stays suitably grim while giving us a more holistic Detroit ghetto – and to quote Danny is almost to do a disservice to his narratives when he finally does mention abortion, or drug abuse, or his mother. To an extent it’s the same old “Detroit Shit” we’ve been hearing since his mixtape days, but his flow is tighter and more descriptive, and the lower of his two voices almost monopolizes the first half, which opens the second up to the levity we’ve come to expect from the other face of Danny’s bipolar output.

And before we go there, a special nod to “Clean Up”, the first track I can recall that gives us a solid look into Danny Brown’s interiority. Because of his musical… condition, as a listener it can be difficult to ever say you know Danny Brown; where does he come from, in an emotional sense? Is he aware that there’s a massive disconnect between his multi-thousand-dollar shoes and the fact that his nation wants to sell his city to Canada? He’s aware, and for once he promises to “Clean Up”. It’s a complete reversal from XXX‘s suicidal overtones, and that’s not like him. It’s also a lie and he knows it, but to get something like ‘Danny Brown: The Ballad’ is a rare and surprisingly touching opportunity; it’s adult in a way the majority of his material betrays. It’s moments like this,  like Danny addressing his mother and daughter, that give OLD that touch of maturity and authenticity that Danny’s previous material largely lacked. The fact that it’s followed by the nihilistic, off-the-rails “Red 2 Go” is a brilliant turn that gives lie to the notion that he can keep his mind off the street for more than a song. It’s easy to forget that Brown is, well, old, and those moments when his odd wisdom shines through prove Danny’s strongest movements here.

Of course, he promises the same thing on “Dope Song”, the intro to Side B. He says it’ll be his “last Dope Song/but not [his] last Dope Song”, and maybe we sigh, and maybe we believe him. And then Side B is a pinball machine of drugs. Because Danny’s been charging his bark for an entire half of the album, he is yapping up a storm on Side B. Song by song we’ve got the bait-and-switch “Dubstep” (drug dealing), “Dip” (Molly), “Smokin and Drinkin” (…smoking and drinking), “Break It [Go]” and “Handstand” (twerking and twerking, sigh), “Way Up Here” (because Side B is the depressed Andrew WK of rap), and “Kush Coma” (ft. a lazy, track-sapping A$AP Rocky). Put a drink (or whatever, it’s Brown) in your hand and you might not even notice the cuts between tracks until you hit the sudden comedown of “Float On”, in which Danny’s voice drops back down, Charli XCX sighs the chorus, and we get a moment to reflect. “Remember when Mommy sent me for the Wonderbread/and n* came and stomped on my fuckin head?/It’s like I learned right then you either sink or you swim/an if you wanna beat your enemy you gotta think like him” – we know, Danny. We know from the several other tracks referencing that incident; that last track, with its quiet-hum organs, arrives as a knowing requiem for the rest of his lifestyle. Like “Clean Up”, it hits hard, and like that track it’s one more piece of evidence that Brown knows exactly what he’s up to. He might be ignorant all over side B, but Danny Brown is never ignorant of Side B, and that’s such an important distinction. I haven’t spoken much of the lyrical content on this side, and I don’t feel I have to: you know what happens. Danny’s naturally talented as hell, his beats are chilly sci-fi, his rhymes know just how to tinge his sexuality and his drug abuse with desperation, so you’re never quite happy – but like Danny, you’re never exhausted enough to quit, either.

Of course OLD doesn’t match up to the shock value of XXX – Danny’s breakthrough mixtape hit like a hammer and it had to, so many of us had never heard its like before. OLD isn’t as focused, for one, and it lacks that desperate hook-to-hook rap that captivated us on XXX, but that thematic pollution side-to-side works to its benefit. Though it never hits the former’s shout-along-chorus highs, Side A feels so much less obvious, and so much more packed with detail than its prequel, his reflection is less forced and more sincere this time. And maybe that’s because Danny’s mental state forces the two halves into interbreed: we’re never sure if he’s going to tell us a horror story or celebrate his own excess – but we know that like his sense of humour, he can’t leave out that nagging, suicidal doubt from nearly anything he writes. That sorrow-black core that paints nearly all of Brown’s work is instrumental to his success as a fantastically bizarre presence in rap, and like all of his material, OLD never lets the audience get comfortable. That might even be an issue of Brown’s crude sense of humour weren’t in full effect – but since when has Brown’s voice not embodied contradictions? This is a man that waxes sing-song about the moral and physical devastation of drug-addiction on “Dope Song”. I love it. It’s gross and awful and thought-provoking all at once; it’s a stomach-churning sort of laugh that he’s now perfected. OLD is strange in all the right ways that we’ve come to expect, from its vocal gymnastics to a Danny’s often-frigid beat selection, but so much tighter than Brown’s previous material – and that includes XXX. He’s never been particularly approachable on album, and nothing about that changes, but we’ve never been this far inside his head before. If we’re going to talk weaknesses, a nod is due to the generally forgettable guest-raps (though recognition is due to Brit-chopper Scrufizzer on “Dubstep”), and OLD‘s necessarily exhausting second half. That said, as the follow-up to a Mixtape that came out sounding like a eulogy, the opportunity to hear a properly mature Danny Brown is a treat and bound to be one of the coolest releases this year.


Originally published right here, October 2013.

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Akira The Don – ATD29

Akira the Don’s relationship to mixtape culture is as extensive as it is instrumental to his success, but perhaps the sight of ATD29 (that’s ATD Mixtape Number 29) up there is going to turn people off, maybe it’s intimidating. Twenty-Nine Mixtapes?! they’ll exclaim, shuddering at the prospect of chugging through 29 mostly album-length releases by a man somehow not 80 years old (and not Lil B of  800+ Myspace tracks). Maybe they’ll assume the mixtapes are disposable retreads on beats, or a ruse (Skrillex) to distract us from Akira’s fear of full-length releases. Akira’s as much a friend of the show here as anyone, and I’ll be quick to disclose that he’s an ally of Transylvanilla, I’m an old fan of his, and yes, 29 Mixtapes is a towering queue of releases. What’s astounding is they aren’t throwaways: Akira’s latest series (especially 25 and 26) have been on steady rotation for ages here at The Nest, and my archives show this isn’t my first encounter with his material. That said, written and recorded over 29 hours(!!) apparently on my birthday, ATD29 marks Akira’s first ‘proper’ mixtape in quite a while: other peoples’ beats, his own mixing and production, guest verses, an original production or two, an autotuned jam with his human son Hercules friggin Narkiewicz. It’s a Mixtape Mixtape, not an album in disguise (Manga Music being especially arguable). And that’s great! The stakes are low, Akira’s having fun, Big Narstie shows up to yell about #Pain. It’s enjoyable. It’s a return to form for Akira, whose discography stacks on his website like a teetering pile of zines, and deigns to drop a studio album only whenever the content suits his greater narrative arc. So kick back, and let’s dig in for around the 29th time.

Smokin’ Joe kicks off the album the same way he did  ATD25, though ‘intro’ is something of a misnomer; it’s also a screaming oldschool funk beat courtesy of DJ Mink. Akira’s all over the place: he’s energized, he’s awarding himself Nobel prizes, he’s shouting out to his kid and everyone else. The beat’s manic and so’s the MC, briefing and hyping the crowd, and slicing directly into the molasses-heavy “Hash In The Post” – based on a true story. ‘Hash hovers under a beat by Mike Will Made It and Akira’s back to his old tricks with the voice modulator. The beat’s lumbering, and Akira floats under the mix, bubbling up to echo his chorus. That vocal processing is his best friend these days for good reason: it lets him keep the tone low-key and gurgle out the verses – even if he weren’t rapping about coming up as an aspiring rapper, or flying a based spaceship to a planet unsullied by police or a lack of weed, the effect locks ‘Hash into place. In fact, Akira keeps it fairly heavy for the first several tracks, tearing into an anti-racist polemic on Chief-Keef-nod “Hate SOSA”. And again with the vocal processing: this time it’s an autotune flutter, yanking the track from Keef’s bark and into outer space. Processing song after song, and keeping the beats weighty, gives ATD29‘s opening few tracks a neat sort of consistency. Sure they aren’t long, but they’re fun – MC and audience alike can float on through (with their Hash), cracking hazy smiles at the jokes. …Until Akira breaks set over Action Bronson’s “Pouches of Tuna“. I’ll fanboy for a second and say that hearing Akira rock nasty raps over that beat, nodding to sexual misdemeanours in Bronson’s style, is a treat. This is what mixtape culture is for: taking a dope beat, even miming another artist’s style, and putting your own vocal tics and production smirks into it. It’s all in good fun, it gives him the opportunity to throw a flanger on “Tuna” and rap nasty Bronson-isms like “abstain from fuckery/a Miss Kentucky Derby depravity/a little fucky-sucky in the lavatory” – and it comes off like wordplay homage. Nice. Because it’s Akira messing around in the studio we do get awkward rhymes about his dragon-spirit-animal-thing from his childhood, but there’s a looseness and casualness that licenses it all to fit. Even when it seems to lack polish, that’s sort of what ATD29 is for.

Following “Tuna” we hit an Akira original: “End of the Road” featuring Big Narstie and Footsie, that really wouldn’t feel out of place in Narstie’s catalogue. The two-step isn’t out of place here either, slotting into 29‘s darker first half. Narstie and Footsie are in top form, locking in as the background horns pop, and Akira’s back on his political rap scene, and tearing into UK banks in a style that would sit comfortably on one of his bigger releases. With “End of the Road” closing out the grimy half of the tape – because Akira The Don is partially a pop musician – It’s Dance Time. I’ll be the first to admit that these tracks took time to grow on me: I’ve come around on them to an extent, but there’s no mistaking the 8-minute dance party lurking in the middle of ATD29. To its credit, “When Life Gives You Lemons PUNCH LIFE IN THE FUCKING FACE” does feature a fear bit of autobiographical rap (which is great) and the chorus is a fun bit of gratuity filtered through robot-chop processing, but it does drag on a bit. This will certainly quench the thirst of anyone that needed more ATD to toss in their hardstyle mix, so perhaps I’m getting this one in the wrong context. East-Van-Cafe not so much, but in club? A blast, likely, and true of so much dance music. Which is the same deal for the next track’s re-remix of vintage ATD track “OMG (This Is So My Jam)”. Again this isn’t necessarily my, uh, jam, but couldn’t it be if I were partying? And so this is sometimes how we must approach music journalism: I’ll begrudgingly admit that ATD29‘s dance-wasteland might be quite fun! Real loud. Drunk with friends. As it is, it sits as an unexpected intermission, chopping the tape in two. It does, though, bring us to “Django”.

Go buy “Django”, seriously. Don’t mess around: here’s Don and Narstie rapping over an Akira-produced remix of that friggin’ sweet Brown/Tupac mashup from Django Unchained. I can’t stress enough: this production kicks ass. Hands down, it’s one of the finest beats Akira’s ever whipped up, and because ATD29 is a largely outsourced production, “Django” centrepieces it perfectly: this is the proper follow-up to favourites “Lord I Miss (Red Dead Redemption)” and “Big Iron” that we waited years to get. Like those tracks, it’s also a bit silly! That said, I can’t remember hearing this much obvious fun bang out of a production studio in a long time. Everyone’s having a blast, listener included, when those horns drop. To be played loud, inebriated, preferably while astride a horse.

ATD29 really has no choice but to cool down after “Django”. It drifts into space-rap about burning spliffs and Thundercats, “Burnt Teeth” that rips another Bronson beat (and slows “Buddy Guy” to its original speed), Don’s political and Satoshi-Kon-dedicated “Daylight” take, and a pair of tracks for his young son, before quietly coming to a stop. One of these odes to Hercules is the roaring, triumphant “Theme From Hercules”, the other’s simply an autotuned Akira singing his son “Moon River”. Both are touching and strange in their own odd, unexpected ways. How cool is that? I love mixtape culture. And really that’s what ATD29 is: Akira’s return to making mixtapes in the classic mode; I can’t not engage with it personally. And while it sometimes plays fast and loose, this thing was slammed together in 29 hours as an intermission between bigger releases. Great swaths of ATD29 are a blast to listen to, and while the pacing gets a bit bizarre (brief tracks, the dance tracks, the sentimental, strange ending) it’s difficult to fault a man that made this in hardly 2 days while celebrating the existence of his brand new human son. Oh right, and he’s uploaded it here if you’d like to listen, too. Real cool, Akira.

A difficult project to score, I think. But here’s a number.


Full Disclosure: As a longtime friend of Transylvanilla, Akira mailed me this release out of the blue, stating I could review it, enjoy it, whatever. And so, much later, I did. Much respect to Akira The Don and his family unit! 

Full Disclosure 2.0: I missed you guys, too. Thanks for reading.

Reviewed right here, October 20, 2013.

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Thoughtbox Review: Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Alright, so Random Access Memories is something else entirely. Daft Punk is pushing themselves, pushing their audience, and expanding their music into a sort of thesis-statement for electronic music as a whole. Where we usually saw them take the human and find a way to synthesize it into the machine, here we have the opposite: beautiful, looping and undulating tracks produced (almost) entirely by live, human hands. Never mind the drum machines, never mind waiting seven minutes for a track to blossom into its full danceable production (though Alive 2007 never had that vice), Random Access Memories is all disco-ass-kickery right from the get-go. And like I said, it’s something else entirely. It’s an organic thing, and it’s everything you don’t expect – depending on how many times you’ve looped ‘Get Lucky’. Daft Punk’s here to actualize everything they’ve done before in an entirely new way. And maybe it’s too poppy for some, and maybe it’s bloated and overlong for others (certainly), and maybe you just don’t like disco, but you can’t argue it’s a hell of a thing. I’m not posting a review score – for now – nor am I posting a review – though my thoughts can certainly be gleamed from what follows. Here, I’m posting my unedited thoughts, as written during my very first listen through. Which was, oh, about an hour ago. Yes, this is how I really take notes. Like Random Access Memories’ availability right now on iTunes streaming, this is an early look and it’s an odd thing to post. But we’ve waited a very long time for this album, and so I don’t think I’ll hold back my responses any longer than necessary. So here. Have Transylvanilla’s very first Thoughtbox.

It is supremely gutsy to release an album for free ahead of time and Know that people will still pay for it. And I will. and you will, too. Here’s a track-by-track.

1. Daft Punk lands with a splash on the latest – there’s no 4 minutes of waiting and building. There’s no half-album-wait for The Vocals Track. All that hits from the get-go. “Give Life Back To Music” they sing, and there we are: live instrumentation. It’s straight funk, with what would otherwise be electronica breakdowns articulated with live instrumentations – porn-groove guitars, walking basslines, sparkling bells synths and flutes(?). Gorgeous production, of course. Same structures and loops as their House roots (you can feel them), but they just come to life with live instrumentation. Some Rick F. James up in here.

It is disco. More than Homework or Discovery – much more obviously. This time instead of Electronica with soul and funk inside the machine/helmet, it’s Disco and Funk that just also happens to be electronica in 2013. House gets back to its roots – physically, instrumentally. 

2. Moody, floaty, orbiting synths open track 2. Guitars remind me of The Eagles, it has a Hotel California groove. And then it’s straight night-time groove-music. It can be hard to believe the robots are behind something so.. smooth. This is RnB. Nice keyboard arpeggios, guys. “This is a game of love/and it was you/the one that would be breaking my heart/when you decided to walk away/when i wanted you to stay” *sings in robot voice wordlessly and gradually becomes a keyboard*. Gorgeous fusion of their robot/human philosophy going on. There’s a whole synth solo, smooth rhodes, built right out of his vocal solo. How cool.

With any luck this will be their most explicitly ‘musical’ album yet. And so far this is the case. This time Daft Punk is out to make, well, dance-music.  But not explicitly club music. These are songs, with lyrics, and instrumentation that is live and vocals that are sung (whenever they aren’t delivered via beautiful keyboard lines or sparkling synths or raindrop guitars).  

Man, that electric bass. 

3. Oh my god this is 9:04 long and opens with an interview with Giovanni Giorgio. The funk drops under the interview, or rather the disco. “I wanted to do an album of the 50s the 60s the 70s – and then of the future. I thought to myself, why not use the synthesizer … it is the sound of the future!” And so Daft Punk runs with it, and it sounds like a Homework extension. They’re ahead of their time again. Again. Keyboard solo runs wild after an extended noodling intro. Jazz drumming, latin influence even. Bass solo. It can be difficult to even locate Daft Punk in the mix, the robots themselves, with all the guest instrumentation going on. And that’s fantastic. They’re the superstructure outside of the music itself. *STRING BREAKDOWN SO COOL* “there was no preconception about what to do” *and it drops* A very neat sacramental trick, burying that notion in the music itself. And then the electronic stuff drops right on top of the string section. Goosebump-inducing symphonic/dance/disco fusion going on here. They’re masters, and you’re going to remember why. Trading twos on drum solos. Comes to a head, fades out on a slowdown 808 loop.

Remember: Daft Punk was never a pop band. That isn’t their gig and never has been – whatever their reputation (and cameo in Tron) might tell you. They don’t write pop songs, they write sprawling and slowly-building disco-infused French House music, and they do it very well. And here they go again, kicking our collective ass without using pop. I don’t even care if Get Lucky comes on. It’s gorgeous, and i love this. Keyboardist wet-dream.

Daft Punk was already this sort of music – go back and listen to Discovery again. The connection is simply much more explicit now. 

4. Within has a piano solo opener. Like an etude, real pretty, extended too. Then drop the synths, moody and soft. Think that one track off Discovery – ‘Crescendolls’. And then robot singing again. Tremolo like a Theremin. This is slow-rock from the future-past, and he sings in an impossible cadence. Octave shifts are nothing to a man with an electronic throat.

Again, Daft Punk (perhaps a bit proudly) demonstrates they’re capable of writing a pop-song (as Elton John might envision one) without the aid of a collaborator. Possibly a pre-emptive response to the massive success of ‘Get Lucky’, and the obvious pop breakthrough of their Kanye collaboration from years back.

5. Julian Casablancas sings on.. a rhythm reminiscent of ‘I’ll Be Watching You’. Well that was unexpected. That said, he’s processed – lightly, nothing obviously smacking of autotune, just soft pitch-shifts between notes. Again, Daft Punk is up to melding acapella performance with their patron machines, and it sounds Neat. Walking bassline, synths drop hard into the chorus. It’s neat, though the low-key production (blunted synths, tempo) keeps things from being too energizing… yet. Julian’s singing harmony with himself and it’s pretty, though hardly my thing – this is an honest-to-god soft-rock tune, and so I sort of hate it on premise. That said, it’s gorgeously produced, and the robot-rock-esque guitar solo just feels Good. Low-notes grind into synthesizer distortion, sound great. Grooves without brooding, smooth without boring, it’s growing on me. Which is good. Because it runs 5:37.

Where an 8-minute track on a  previous Daft Punk album might denote a slow build (to my impatient, 13-year-old ears, agonizingly slow at times) here the switches are much more dynamic. There are bridges, choruses, breakdowns, and gear-shifting transitions within songs (most notably, so far, on ‘Giorgio’). They work Great. Daft Punk has matured without losing their trademark structures – I’d call this their most accessible yet, by Far. My mom would like this. So would the cat. So does my inner Lazer Raver.) 

6. Alright here we go – track 1 of 2 featuring Pharrell, whom I famously sort-of-don’t-like-at-all. Slap bass and disco strumming are going a long way to convince me of otherwise. The beat stomps Homework-style in the background. Pharrell is on his Prince shit, and it’s pretty alright – he isn’t running the show, he’s hosting a disco dance-party, much as he does on that single we’ve all heard. Soul claps! Stomping drums and bassline that grow and evolve – nice. Sure he’s repeating himself, but it’s Daft Punk of course there’s repetition. “Here take my shirt and just wipe up all the.. SWEAT SWEAT SWEAT”. Okay that’s a little unintentionally hilarious, as are the orbiting robot-head “Come on’s” – awesome as they are. Arpeggiated backup singing from the vocoder are great, indiscernible as the lyrics might be. Who cares, this is a vocal track sequenced like oldschool Daft Punk – it just keeps growing and evolving and mutating and expanding, but with live instrumentation with Prince-style vocals and vocoders layering over and over on top. And like Daft Punk, they know when to drop the track back to zero and start layering again. Very Cool.

A track like ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’ would be dull if it weren’t sequenced like House music, and that’s the trick, isn’t it? Daft Punk can extend a vocal mix like this into eternity (see: Human After All) without losing the audience because they’ve got such a damn knack for track layering.     

7. Intro soundin’ like Close Encounters with more beeps. Solar wind, synth noodling open ‘Touch’, which gives us friggin’ Paul Williams. ‘Rainbow Connection’ Paul Williams, because I’ll take any opportunity to bring that song up. Spacey, echoing bizarro intro tells us we’re orbiting away from earth again. Spooky vocals, a whole lot of…. “touching”. This would have been a great intro to a Ziggy Stardust song. …And then it all silences into a vacuum as Williams takes a vocal solo. I won’t ruin how cool this vocal performance is, frankly. He’s great. He kills it. Daft Punk does not make songs like this, and that’s what makes it so exciting. Yes, it’s disco again, but it’s clearly taking influence from bizarro 70’s acts and their obsession with Space, and that’s what’s so exciting. It’s synesthetic; there’s a growth of colour as the symphony swells. Ragtime piano, trumpets and trombones and the bassline all drop in at once, it’s a cornucopia of wordless sound. It’s one of the coolest music turns I’ve heard in a long while. Tempo shift takes us to space again – there’s those Bowie-esque synthesizers warping in and out, and we’re singing in robot-voices again. There’s a choir and a swelling of the symphony in the background again. It’s an agonizingly slow build… that drops out and… builds… and turns into an arpeggiated synth line straight out of winning a race in Mario Kart! Well, okay. That was unexpected. And the chorus continues again and grows… until Daft Punk drops us into another Paul Williams vacuum! What a deeply strange song.

Random Access Memories is an album of unexpected turns and sudden shifts – sonically, in terms of tempo, vocally, though never stylistically. ‘Touch’ music for a broadway stage musical in its grandeur, you can see the credits dropping in the background, it’s the sort of song many of us never imagined Daft Punk would come around to write – and I can still scarcely believe they have. And it’s playing Right Now for the first time.  

8. ‘Get Lucky’ is ‘Get Lucky’. What more can I say to you, go listen to it. But in terms of the album it functions as a breather after the grandeur and bizarrity of ‘Touch’ – and it’s perfectly sequenced. ‘Get Lucky’ then works as not only a killer sample/single track, but works together with the other fairly innocuous Pharrell track to encapsulate track 7 (that is, ‘Touch’) in its 8:18 long eccentricity (a possible centrepiece to an album full of them). And that is a very, very clever move. Neat. Also can I again stress how cool that final vocoder loop is? It’s great. It makes me miss looping ‘Harder Better Faster Stronger’ as a teen, and I’m sure it’s supposed to.

9. Drops with strings! Something like the opening to a film, was the immediate mental image, and the sensation only grows as the timpanis drop in. Yes Timpanis on a Daft Punk release. What band is this this sounds like music for Ni No Kuni. And of course the pretension slinks out of the way just in time for vocoded vocals and porno-level guitar playing again. ‘Beyond’ is slinky without being trashy, relaxing without ever ceasing movement. I think there might be an actual theremin going on in the background, unless that’s a slide-guitar (come on theremin). It’s a come-down track after ‘Get Lucky’, polluted by ‘Touch’s grandiosity. It’s also the first track to explicitly remind the listener that there are two vocoded robot-men in Daft Punk, and they have distinct voices (definitely a slide-guitar). Cowboy Bebop would have words for a track like this, I think.

It’s important to note that Daft Punk might be the first group in history to permanently vocode themselves, yet never manage to be a pain in the neck while doing so. It doesn’t get annoying, it’s stylistically consistent with the musical styling, and the musical philosophy. It takes a subtle touch to make vocal production like this work. Daft Punk’s vocals come off less like lyrical communications and more like speaking synthesizers, and it can’t be stressed enough how effective their distinction between the two has rendered their musical performance. It’s Very Cool to hear a man’s voice gradually degrade or ascend into a synth-line, organically melding with the track it supports. 

10. Tom-toms, synthesized raindrops and symphony, percussive keyboard beats kick off ‘Motherboard’, which has much more of a classically electronic feel to it.. until the piano solo in the background kicks in. The live drumming on this album is lively as hell, just exciting enough to temper the acoustic guitar noodling that slowly descends into this beautiful, apparently instrumental track. Above and beyond dance music, this is simply beautiful and wordless… music. It defies easy classification, I’d call it music for a film, but Daft Punk’s film music is demonstrably worse than this. There are flutes, apparently a bassoon, and all the while a driving jazz drum beat. Simply gorgeous. If you don’t care for vocals, at all, this may well be your single off of Random Access Memories. And just when you’ve got yourself comfortable, it switches, slows, degrades, turns sinister. Murky and crackling, driving something like a slowed DnB beat. And from that darkness, classic Daft Punk synthesizers reminiscent of their good work on the Tron soundtrack drop on top of more jazz drumming. Perhaps the first track on the album to not be disco.

11. With Todd Edwards, something of another danceable slow-groove slow-dance. His voice suits the track, and yes it is again disco. Disco somehow incorporating blips and bleeps, oscillating synthesizers and, again, the slide-guitar. The synthesizers flicker in and out, lending the chorus something of a strobing breakbeat feel – the rest of the track is smooth as butter disco, and the juxtaposition is striking. Is it worth noting at this point that I’m not a disco fan, and I’m very much enjoying a disco album? Slide-guitar solo. I hate you, slide-guitar, though not here. We’ve made our peace here. And then a guitar solo! Which is actually the processed voice of one of our two hosts! Because of course it is. I love these guys. 

12. Striking vocal production featuring Panda Bear of Animal Collective! Looped robot vocals under a slow-building, booming bass beat, which of course blossoms outwards in Daft Punk’s signature style. ‘Around the World’ is the appropriate touchstone here, and I’m sure someone’s already counted the instances of the repeated phrase. Vocals as instruments, again, with Panda Bear yelping over top. I don’t know if I’ll ever buy into his voice, but the sonic chemistry works – like so many of the other tracks here, there isn’t so much of a lyrical progression as an aural one. Daft Punk doesn’t, necessarily, care about lyrics – and they’re one of the few groups that will earn a pass from me for that. They know how to manipulate the sound of human voices (or manipulated human voices) to create instruments out of communication. And that’s something that the vast majority of dance music does absolutely, embarrassingly poorly. Certainly this whole track runs on a loop, and not a long one, but again it’s the resurgence of that classic Daft Punk appeal – building beats, with a bedrock of vocal loops. A steady groove and another slow-dance with a bass reminiscent of ‘Pheonix’. Pretty.

13. I’d been warned about ‘Contact’. An equation of the observation of the earth from space (via audio sample) with, to this listener, a description of a disco ball. CHURCH ORGANS. Thriller synth-drop into an arpeggiated loop. This song isn’t a slow-jam. Wow does it ever move, full jazz percussion fills, soloing over than synth line. Someone is going nuts on drums, and it’s worth our time to find out whom. And so it is – traded segments of organ clarity and arpeggio catharsis with improvised jazz drumming – and then a deeply distorted guitar-breakdown. ‘Contact’ is a cyclone, whirling to completion, and what a fun listen. Hearing them mix this into live sets will be a stunner.

And then, of course, it all distorts into eternity. Liftoff.


This is, for my money, a very early Album Of The Year contender. So way to go, robots. So there they are, my collected initial notes for Random Access Memories. An actual review will follow, or possibly not, because my thoughts on the album can be gleaned from the above. It’s a fascinating album, a bizarre one, and a proper review would focus on its faults as well – though those will certainly be easier to locate on a non-streamed version cut into tracks, and not available for free on the internet (yes I have a pre-order). Yes, it’s absolutely worth a listen. Random Access Memories is worth my time and money, and hopefully yours. As an additional note, be sure to look up the personnel list, because it is ridiculously impressive. As is much of the rest of this album. Thanks for reading.

*No Score Given*

Published right here about a week before its release, May 15th, 2013.

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