Friday, September 4, 2015

Nitpickery: Discovery and the Musique Mixes

Hey y'all.  So I've been really hard on Daft Punk, but there's a reason why they got so popular.  Usually it's due to their singles rather than their full albums, but with Discovery they struck gold.  Not only do the songs feel like they're really an album, but the fun and funky sounds chosen to create the album are appealing and emotional.  It's surprising they went a more warm route after their edgy, avant guarde Homework, but hey, I'm just grateful they did. 

Thence came Discovery, the album that launched Daft Punk into the semi-approval of the mainstream, as well as attracting attention from the anime crowd for its conversion into the anime Interstella 5555.  It deserves its accolades, overall being a solid album that anyone can enjoy.

1. One More Time

Who doesn't love this song?  It's the perfect dancefloor song, with both fast and slow elements.  Yes, it does repeat, but without overdoing it.  This is the song that will draw you in and bring you right into the moment.

2. Aerodynamic

And from dance to adventure, here comes Aerodynamic.  How can someone not rock out to this?  The electric guitar is perfect, creating a sense of urgency and power.  Love the bells at the beginning and end.

3. Digital Love

This one isn't my favorite, but that doesn't mean it isn't good.  In objective terms, this is a nice pop song that many people are bound to be captivated by.  It also has a perfect place on the album, bringing down the energy level from the previous track to a more mellow place.  It's simple, but has a lot of appeal to the pop crowd.  I especially love that the ending tries to distance itself from the beginning.  That's how to make a song travel.

4. Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

The song that needs no introduction.  AND NO REMIX.  Ahem sorry, heh, I'll stop.  In any case, this song, despite being mechanical, has a perfect blend of emotion.  It feels like a never-ending wave of continually improving technology.  This is the most emotional a vocoder has ever been.

5. Crescendolls

This song is so silly and cheerful, with a touch of cynical.  Sure, maybe it overstays its welcome just a little, but it's great that the lyrics are matched with the music, so that they blend and become a part of it, instead of stealing focus from the beat.  On the other hand, if it were any longer, it would be annoying.

Heh, it helps the review that I'm listening to this without watching the Interstella 5555 clip.  The clip does improve this song's monotony, giving it an unfair bias.  Sure, it's happy monotony, but monotony all the same.

6. Nightvision

Nightvision is not even two minutes long.  It's just a little downtempo break from all the hyperactivity.  While this song isn't going to win any awards, it serves its purpose for the album perfectly.  And it's nice and mellow.

7. Superheroes

Like Crescendolls, this song is happy monotony.  The intro helps, but it's pretty repetitive until the lyrics cut out.  Pretty effective use of Barry Manilow, though.  Again, like Crescendolls, it's better with the Interstella video.  On the other hand, Superheroes pulls ahead because there are more sounds mixed in, and the ending stops the words and goes into a different, bubbly direction.  Feels very superhero-ish.  Particularly with the laser sounds at the end.

8. High Life

The triplet to Crescendolls and Superheroes in terms of vocal sample usage.  I'd say it's between the two in terms of quality.  You might like Crescendolls better if you prefer its dance party feel.  It's high energy and fun, but could use a little more sound variety.  However, the emotion of the track is effective for the mood it wanted to create. 

9.  Something About Us

A classic if there ever was one.  This song right here is definitely one of Daft Punk's best in terms of lyrics.  The words are romantic without being cheesy, and the emotional direction is spot on.  It's way more subtle than anything on Random Access Memories, that's for sure.

On the other hand, this song can come across as kinda creepy.  The singer is saying he "might not be the right one", but wants the girl anyway, as though he's just trying to get into her pants rather than form a relationship.  I dunno, maybe I'm reading too much into it.

In any case, this is a tragic, romantic song, and anyone who's seen Interstella will hate me forever for thinking sinister things about this song. 

10. Voyager

Even though this isn't called "Discovery", I always think of this as the title track.  This is a song of great subtlety, whose soft sounds will lure you in and take you places.

11. Veridis Quo

I went wandering down the internet and discovered that some people actually dislike this song.  That's a bit astounding.  This is one of my absolute favorites of Daft Punk.  The sinister feel and organ-like sounds are captivating and mystical.  It slowly builds weirder and weirder, more hypnotic by the minute.  It feels like wandering a castle by candelight.  Must've been pretty easy to come up with the Interstella clip for this.

12.  Short Circuit

In terms of experimentation, variation, and playing around with sound, this is Daft Punk's masterpiece.  Sure, they have catchier songs, but catchiness is only one aspect of music.  This song, starting happy and pulsing and then ending sinister, shows a mastery over sound like nothing else DP has ever produced.  It's avant guarde and still appealing to all.  I wish they'd taken the talents on display here and produced more emotionally experimental songs of this nature.

13. Face to Face

Essentially an electric pop song.  The words are perfect, the sound is perfect, and it's an inspiring, happy song.  These lyrics add a lot to the song.  Even without words, the song is happy but twisted, with weird sounds out of nowhere popping up every now and then.  If all pop songs were like this, I'd be happier with the genre.

14.  Too Long

The only real miss of the album.  It's not that much of a miss, but the rest of the songs of the album have a lot more emotion and/or subtlety.   In electronic music, the longer songs need to be more complex so that people will be interested in listening to them for longer.  However, this ten minute long jam is far more simplistic than the others.  It proves my earlier point that DP can't do long breakdowns.  They tried, and this is what they ended up with. 

To be fair, it's not awful.  It's just incredibly simplistic, and the first six minutes are kind of annoying.  I tend to skip until it reaches the "I know you need it...." part.  Even then, it repeats way too much.  Fortunately it does form an emotionally satisfying conclusion to the album, even if it can't stand on its own feet so much.

That's the real glory of Discovery.  All of these songs flow into one another so well, that it forms a cohesive whole where the listener is taken on a long journey, with all the ups and downs that entails.  This has been called one of the best albums of all time, and it's hard to argue with that.  It's a very solid set of songs that accomplish basically all they set out to. 

That's what makes it all the more tragic that Daft Punk never seemed to learn what made this album good, and never used those lessons to create more lively, artistic work.  They just jumped from one idea to another, never making forward progress on any one.  Granted, no band should always sound the same, but at this point the only real consistency with the albums is repetitiveness.  Then again, of all Random Access Memories' flaws, repetitiveness wasn't really one of them -- other than the constant stream of low tempo songs.  Sheesh, was there ever a band more inconsistent than Daft Punk?

But let's jump ahead to the Musique album.  It's just their "best of" album, but there are four songs on it that I haven't talked about yet.  Let's do this, shall we?

1. Musique

This was released as the B side to Da Funk before Homework came out but ended up not being put on an album until now.  It's alright.  It feels very Homework, in that it's repetitive and not particularly innovative.  I admit, I don't listen to this song often.  I hear the beginning and skip it unless it's just distraction while I study or something.

2. Mothership Reconnection (Daft Punk Remix Edit)

The beginning is really fun.  The whole song feels like it's not taking itself too seriously, and I appreciate that.  It's a great dance song that's fun and humorful.  It's not especially outstanding, but it's a great time.  Why didn't Daft Punk do more songs like this?  This right here is their niche.

3. Chord Memory (Daft Punk Remix)

Much more experimental, Chord Memory is out to be weird.  Some might think of it as too weird, and the beginning is a tad dry.  All the same, it's fun.  Pretty hard cheese, but it's a great dance song without compromising experimental artistry.  Still, it's the weakest of the three remixes.  Probably because it's so all over the place.  Whatever, it's still fun.

4. Forget About The World (Daft Punk 'Don't Forget the World' Mix)

I love this song.  It's one of my all time favorites, and one of the most entrancing songs Daft Punk has ever done.  What's so good about it is that it's an appropriate remix.  Some remixes are too similar to the original, or are nothing but the original hacked up and spliced with amateur beats.  The Daft Punk mix of Forget About The World basically creates a new song with their mix, allowing people to enjoy both the new and old versions for different reasons.  Where Gabrielle's version is dramatic and R&B, this one is sinister and squelching.  Amazing.

Okay, time to confront the whole "Daft Punk used to be better in the old days" idea.  I think this is comfortably proven false.  They weren't better in the "old" days, but in the Discovery days.  Their album styles and musical choices are all schizophrenic, definitely based on whatever idea happened to occur to them.  Since they never made any real musical progress, the only reason they were better in the "old days" is because Discovery didn't come out recently (opinions on the TRON: Legacy soundtrack aside).  It's baffling to me that DP couldn't pick a direction.  This is probably why their best work is represented more in their popular singles than in their collective works.

Ugh, I was wandering around, and it was nothing but ads for their products: clothing, yo-yos, stickers, etc.  Granted, the ads were humorously retro, but the only thing on their website is shopping and a link to their Random Access Memories website.  Which only has a music video, download/shopping links, and some videos on their collaborations.  No bio, no news, no tour information, nothing.

It might be too late for Daft Punk.  Maybe they're so deeply entrenched in fame and "artistry" that they can't come back down and just do some good songs that people enjoy.  It feels like they're trying so hard to be taken seriously that they can't just have fun anymore.  They like to trick people with mainstream "Get Lucky", but quite frankly, how many songs on Random Access Memories are comparable to it?

Let's face it.  They've become sellouts at this point.  Here's my advice to Daft Punk fans: don't expect anything.  Their four albums to this point have four completely different audiences.  Homework is underground, Discovery is electro funk, Human After All is creepy political, and RAM is trying too hard.  There's almost zero consistency, so in the end, there's no hope that we can have expectations for Daft Punk to fulfill.  We can't expect good, bad, artsy, mainstream, repetitive, funk, creep, or anything else.  Thus, there's no particular reason to anticipate any new album, as we can't expect consistent quality.

But hey, the random usage of sounds Daft Punk chose over the years does at least provide us with absurd hits every so often.  Like the rolling of the dice, surely they'll come up with something that'll appeal to your particular music tastes every so often.   So ante up, and we'll see what's in the cards.

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