Saturday, August 29, 2015

Homework Vs. Human After All

Hey y'all.  So I've decided to really sit and listen to early Daft Punk.  Because I've always been sort of stuck on the Discovery period, I haven't really given much of a listen to their first and third albums, Homework and Human After All.  Post listen, it's pretty clear that Discovery eclipses them both. While Discovery had not a single bad track (though I admit I'm not that fond of Digital Love), these other albums by Daft Punk are shockingly weak.  Only a few of the songs were really listenable, and I feel lucky that in my early electronic days, I bought Musique instead of either of those.

But people like Homework.  It's "important" to them, as a part of the history of electronic music. Even when people acknowledge its weaknesses, they seem compelled to talk about its importance in the grand scheme of things.  As for Human After All, people complain about it, saying it's the worst album Daft Punk has ever done.

Allow me to speak the controversial, but true.  Homework is only marginally better than Human After All.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that Human After All was all that great.  It's a weak album, and I don't feel inclined to purchase it any time soon.  It's just that Homework is boring.  It's not innovative. Most of the tracks on the album are ones of the same level of quality I can find elsewhere.  Likewise Human only has a few tracks I like, and only one I want to own -- and note that thanks to Musique, I already do.  Actually, I have the only Homework songs I want too, for that matter.

Another thing that astonishes me is that people seem to want to excuse Homework for its flaws, but Human, whose flaws are similar in nature, is absolutely hated.  To me, they're both mediocre at best, and Homework edges out only on its artsy factor.  Yet while Homework has a few more standouts, the collective tracklist of Human at least has more interesting riffs.  Both are extremely repetitive.

So let's get into the songs and talk about what their deal is.  Starting with Homework, of course.

1. Daftendirekt

This feels like a track that could have gone full hip-hop, but wasn't pushed far enough.  Quite frankly, it would sound better if it were one.  Or if the lyrics were removed for a longer period of time.  I loved the end.  As is, it's alright.  Slightly annoying.

2. WDPK 83.7 FM

This is only an intro track a few seconds long, but it's really cute.  Short tracks have a place in albums, and this one does its job.

3. Revolution 909

Will you forgive me if I say I don't quite get the appeal of this song?  While the only thing truly bad about it is the intro, it's just a bit...there.  Well, it is a nice, smooth song.  It's very good when you want to have a downbeat moment.  When it's late at night and I'm in the mood, this is a fun song.  It could definitely stand to be shorter.  Or more varied.  Some of the mellow sounds included here sound great, and those should have been played with more.

I dunno.  Why would I listen to this when I can listen to BP Empire?  Same tones, more variety, more songs.

4. Da Funk

Da hit.  It's as good as everyone says, although I have heard it way too many times by this point.  For some reason, it reminds me of Judicator Aldaris.  But that's neither here nor there.  It's just a good, solid track, perfect for walking with your crew down the street.  Seriously, why hasn't DP done more urban funk?

5. Phoenix

I kinda like this.  The sounds chosen for this song were good ones.  It feels a bit like minimal anthem. Still too repetitive, but there's something there.

6. Fresh.

I love the water sounds.  Intro is very nice.  The beat that comes in after that is alright.  Again, this track is something that's better in the club than just plain listening to.

7. Around the World

A nice, peppy track.  It's so bubblegum silly and robotic strange at the same time, that it has immediate appeal.  A perfect exercise song.  Classic Daft Punk.  I don't play this song much, but I don't have any complaints about it.

8. Rollin' & Scratchin'

Note that there is no actual scratching in the song.  Just a sort of Casiotone snare drum sound and some squealing.  This is pretty annoying, actually.  Let us skip.

9. Teachers

Does no one else think it's a bit pretentious to make a song out of musical inspirations when this is just their first album?  Whatever, this is a cute song.  I like it.  It's relaxing, not too long, and pretty humorous.  Very silly, but in a fun way.  It's not really that much of a song, so I get if other people don't like it.  But it is a successful form of avant guarde in music.

10. High Fidelity

There are some nice sounds here, but the way they're cut is really annoying.  It works a bit better when the vocals aren't involved.  About two and a half minutes in, the vocals sort of click into place and sound better. The "DJ bring it up" part.  If this part had been emphasized, as well as turned into more of a traditional song, it might have worked better.  As is, it's a bit annoying.

11. Rock 'n' Roll

The handclaps.  The cheese.  The yawns.  The tedious.  The skips.

12.  Oh Yeah

The experimentation is a little better here.  The nineties-ness of the sound is evident.  It's alright. Nothing spectacular, but it wasn't as hard to listen to as other tracks on the album.

13. Burnin

This is alright, but it's also typical.  That, and the squeaky "wee-ooo, wee-ooo, wee-oo" could have been removed and only made this song better.   Absolutely marginal.

14. Indo Silver Club

This is kind of nice.  Very club.  The minimalism of the song prevents it from being as annoying as the previous few tracks.  At the same time, it's not all that catchy and it could stand to be shorter. Will work very nicely for the club, though.

15.  Alive

While I'm not sold on the beginning, this is a nice, relaxing track.  Again, it's better for the club, but this one feels a bit more listenable than the previous.  Oh, what am I saying?  I won't be re-listening to this one for a long time.  It's inoffensive, but nothing that's going to appeal to me when I crave electronic music.  Note that I can say the same thing for the previous five tracks as well.

16. Funk AD

Now this I really, truly like.  Sure, it's only a few seconds of Da Funk played backwards, but this is shockingly good for backwards music.  I wouldn't mind a full version of it at all.

Oh, look what I found: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbqZcCl7h5M
Hm, not quite as good as I expected.  Oh well, with a little polishing it could have been fun.


Anyway, the second half of this album is just club mix stuff.  While the first part had its shining stars, it too was repetitive and lacked a lot of creative punch.  I honestly can't understand why this got hyped as much as it did.  It's not awful, but I'm willing to bet that better albums were released at that same time. To be fair, apparently Daft Punk didn't intend to release an album, but ended up producing enough songs so decided to put them all together on one cd.

Alright, so between Homework and Human, Daft Punk released Discovery.  Discovery is shockingly good, and represents the golden period for Daft Punk.  However, once that was over, for some reason DP didn't appear to learn from its past album.  None of the happiness and pure electric fun of Discovery made it into Human After All.

Oh, okay, this is shocking.  Apparently Guy-Manuel said that, "We were definitely seduced at the time by the idea of doing the opposite of Discovery."  You mean the opposite of your best, most successful album?  What?  I'm cruising their wikipedia page for the album, and it's astounding. Apparently Daft Punk intended to make an artistic statement about robotic music and the power of the media.  Surely Daft Punk has always been message-driven, but holy crap, music is better when it's not a political statement. 

This pains me, but it really pulls things into perspective.  I've always wondered why they went from the beauty and fun of Interstella 5555 to suicidal robots in Electroma.  Huh, they're saying that the album is about "fear or paranoia" and that it has to do with the "internal, personal" stuff that Thomas Bangalter was going through at the time.  Um, Tom, buddy, are you alright?

So therapy aside, let's get talking about the album.

1. Human After All

This is an amazing track, I don't care who says otherwise.  It's definitely the best of the album.  It's fun, interesting, and weird.  It lives up to the expectations Discovery created for Daft Punk.

2. The Prime Time of Your Life

It's cute.  Simple.  Amateur.  Granted, it does have a little cheesy fun factor going on for it.  The message of the song is a bit silly, and feels like a forerunner to the silly side that Daft Punk showed in Random Access Memories.  I like the part after the lyrics settle down, though.

3. Robot Rock

This is the third track in a row that has nice background, but depends heavily on a small number of lyrics.  And since those lyrics are only "robot rock", this song is less appealing than the previous two. It also seems like very obvious conceptually for a band composed of machines. Except for the purposes of this review, I never listen to this song.

4. Steam Machine

I actually kinda like this one.  The beat is nice, but it feels like guys could have done more with it. The heavy, breathy "steeaaaaaam....machiiiiiiiine...." words drag down this song, since the delivery tries to be creepy and there isn't anything particularly scary about a machine that produces steam. This track would have been a lot better if DP had simply taken the background beat and played with that.

5. Make Love

I skip tracks with dumb names.

6. Brainwasher

I hate the opening, but once that's over, it gets kinda nice.  And then repeats ad nauseum.  DP could stand to learn how to make a song "travel" -- that is, make it longer without simply repeating the same thing.

7. On/Off

Eh, it's one of those few-seconds-long interruptions DP has done from time to time.  This one is gibberish.  Not interesting.

8. Television Rules the Nation

S'alright.  It would be better without lyrics.  What is it with DP and not letting the music speak for itself?  And why is a band going on about television?  If this were a song by a pop band, it would at least have lyrics about the over-technilized youth.  As is, the message of this song is stapled in, adding nothing to the song.

A better example of this type of song is People of Tomorrow by Eiffel 65.  Granted, it's silly cheese, but there's a time and a place for cheese, so long as it doesn't take itself too seriously.

9. Technologic

I don't care for this song.  It's obviously a descendant of the Homework song Teachers, given its simple beat supported by spoken lyrics.  This is a very commercial song.  All the same, I don't mind its existence.  It's fine for what it is, and clearly accomplishes what DP wanted it to.  It's just not something that bears playing on repeat.

10. Emotion

It was cute the first few iterations, but then it just gets repetitive.  Really, DP needs to play with their songs more.  This is making me think a little better of Random Access Memories, actually.  RAM at least had better song progression.


Human After All seems, against all logic, to be a return to the Homework-style type of sounds, only with words this time.  Yes, it's apparently supposed to be based on new ideas, but those new ideas generally come only in terms of lyrics.  Nothing about this album is really scary, and the closest it came was with Steam Machine, which felt a little more like a kid in a bedsheet than a monster.  Only the first song really pulls a person in, and the other two notable songs, Robot Rock and Technologic, are more avant guarde than listenable or fun.  None of Daft Punk's intentions come through with these songs.  Well, except that maybe Tom needs therapy.

Yeah, apparently these songs are better in live shows, and they are very mixable into other songs to create experiences.  However, as a person sitting in a coffeeshop with a laptop, I can't have that experience.  There's no dj, stage, or light show here.  Judging the album by what it is, I can't praise it. It's just an annoying, stale collection of songs that fails to live up to Daft Punk's potential.

However, in case I'm starting to sound a bit bitter on the topic, I will follow this up with one final post, where I'll talk about Daft Punk's Discovery and the three remixes that ended up on their Musique album.  Let's end this on a positive note, shall we?

Well, this review series, anyway.  For this particular blog, I want to share a quote I found on a review of Homework.  It explains an important reason for why people love this album so much.

Ozzystylez --
"Those tunes are still winding people up to this day. Heather [?] made me turn it off whilst we were driving the other day saying that she found it too stressful. I obliged her, but smiled inside that I can still take this, that I still get it, whilst others don't. It is still very much mine, just as it was when I discovered it at 16. My parents hated it, so I was bound to love it. My friends didn't get it, so I felt like the cool guy with the "out there" music collection. Now my girlfriend can't stand it, and so I have another little refuge just for me."

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