Sunday, January 26, 2014

Daft Punk

With the Grammys airing tonight, I had to get my last Best Album review in today - so you get a special Sunday post on the blog.

Random Access Memories is the only nominated album I'd listened to before the nominations were announced. I spent a good deal of time with it over the summer. Mostly I liked the fun, dance groves and appreciated the homage to 70's dance music with all the modern twists. I haven't heard it (besides the odd radio play of "Get Lucky") in probably four or five months.

When the nominations came out, I figured this was the preordained winner. There was so much critical buzz, it's a long-suffering, oft forgotten group in a genre that hasn't quite come of age, who actually put out a complex album, layered with deep musical knowledge and loads of production experience, it seems fun, tough, serious, light, deep, and easy all at the same time.

Despite the hit single, this album most reminded me of Herbie Hancock's a few years back - an album that won because it's pure genius was impossible for voters to ignore, despite its more popular and commercial rivals. Grammy usually gets these things right, somehow.* Random Access Memories seems like the next in line.

It provides everything you could have ever hoped for from Daft Punk and then all manner of different, more imaginative, unpredictable things - from the piano-based, introspective ballad-of-sorts "Within" to the collaboration with forgotten 70's iconic songwriter, Paul Williams - "Touch."

I really enjoy the opening track, "Give Life Back to Music," which combines a lot of the best qualities of the album in one place, especially the ability to entertain. Where Daft Punk is weak is their tendency to focus so much of production and invention they can miss the sweet spot and overproduce. A song like, "Lose Yourself to Dance" might have been even better with a little less Pharrell input.

If I'm picking a favorite track, it has to be "Giorgio by Moroder," the nine minute, mostly spoken/instrumental tribute to the German producer who essentially invented electronica. It features the man himself describing his musical vision of encapsulating the past, present, and future of music in the early 70's. It's a wonderful celebration of innovative creativity and a helpful concept summary for Random Access Memories itself.

It checks all the boxes: depth, variety, creativity, musicality, style, innovation. It's just a plain good album. I think it will win. I think it should win. It's a landmark album of the highest quality, by a group that's been working in near-obscurity for the better part of a decade to legitimize a genre of music that's been otherwise snubbed and ignored by the general public.** This is the kind of thing the voters reward.

At the same time, when I come back to it, some of the songs fade into the background. A number of them go on too long, take mis-steps, or are otherwise forgettable (in parts). That doesn't happen on any of the other albums. There are duds all around, but you know it right away and they don't hang around forever.

I've not stopped thinking about (and appreciating) the Sara Bareilles album, even as it was understated upon first listen. Random Access Memories is good, great even, but it may ultimately be forgettable once others build upon the foundation provided here. If they don't win, you might see a song on an album forty years from now paying tribute to some long-forgotten French electronica outfit that only true diehards remember as revolutionaries of the sound. They could be going out on tour with the next big thing, a la Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones.

I just don't know how to handicap this race. Macklemore is the frontrunner, I guess. Daft Punk has the critical acclaim and the benefit of most voters probably hearing each album once (if at all). Taylor Swift is the darling and Bareilles probably falls closest to my personal style preference - thus making her impossible to judge accurately.

I can see why any of them might win. They all make their case in their own way. I don't think Kendrick Lamar has a shot. Only his win would be a surprise to me. A Swfit win would be disappointing, just because of the "been there, done that" aspect. I'll be happy for any of the others.***

Thanks for reading and enjoy the show!

*But not always. But sometimes. (Now I just feel like Malcolm McDowell.)

**"Around the World" was big when I was in high school and college - it's a great track, a really great one that holds up over time - the guys who did that song were entirely capable of the layered, sophisticated performance you see on Random Access Memories, but they were a mysterious french electronica group, no one actually expected them to do it.

***Gun to my head? It's still Daft Punk. There's a larger narrative here; Macklemore will be happy with the Best Song award.

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