Give Life Back To Music 12.16.13: Daft Punk - Discovery Posted by Sean Comer on 12.16.2013
411's Sean Comer continues his personal retrospective of Daft Punk's music with a look at the duo's 2001 album Discovery!.
Daft Punk – Discovery
Through whatever form it might be pursued, music was meant to be enjoyed without boundaries.
It doesn't always leave the listener with a sense of giddy bliss, but when a song or album ends, we're meant to feel more whole in some way than we did when we began – as if we've satisfied some inexplicable, inexpressible yearning.
Sometimes, it's a need to laugh. Occasionally, it's a need to open a release valve that just won't turn simply by hand. Sometimes, we need to dance. Every now and then, we just want to sit and silently remember.
If nothing else, I can say this for Daft Punk: the iconic French EDM duo remind me of the one thing that I love most about music: that genre divisions mostly couldn't matter less to me. Genre-sorting might satisfy some niggling taxonomical obsessions, but I can't feel "punk" or "metal" or "trip-hop" or "emo" in a song. On the other hand, I can feel so much so very clearly when an artist obviously enjoyed composing the music as much as I've loved absorbing it.
To me, that's the beauty of 2001's Discovery. As exploratory and probing as Homework was, this is music engineered for unfettered, unconditional enjoyment. In a sense, it was an early blueprint for what would eventually become the direction that guided 2013's Random Access Memories.
RELEASED: March 3, 2001
If you twisted my arm for a single-word summation of Discovery, it would be "brightness."
Homework had a slick coolness about it that could understandably be mistaken for pretension. Sure, the pair's debut album embraced structure, melody and restraint more than many EDM releases before it or since, but it largely took on a cruising pace with a dark, artsy tone.
Discovery takes that same embrace of musicality and infectious hooks not quite 180 degrees from where Homework ended. For one thing, the album is noticeably less bass-heavy. The synth emphasis remains, but with a decidedly warmer sound and less gritty distortion. Everything is kept extremely clean, to the point of a 1970s-grooving aesthetic.
"One More Time" and "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" might as well be placed upon the family tree of Daft Punk songs as the grandfathers of "Get Lucky" and "Lose Yourself to Dance." They're much less sun-soaked Nile Rogers funk than the two latter-day Random Access Memories singles, but they're instead splashy disco-pop anthems. I just can't feel bad when listening to them. It's seemingly physically impossible. "One More Time" in particular adds some tasty horns throughout that show up again disappointingly rarely throughout the rest of the set.
Meanwhile, "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" works them right into the beat with the signature digitized vocals and a step-keeping high hat that holds up just fine on its own or as a Kanye-copped sample. It's a more frenetic track in places than the rock-solid Kool and the Gang groove of "One More Time" but damn if both don't fit perfectly into the carefree tone of the whole album.
Squarely between the two, there's "Digital Love" and I can't believe that I haven't appreciated this one more before re-listening to the album for this column. Imagine if the Buggles had followed up 1979's "Video Killed The Radio Star" with a kitschy theme to a forgotten prime-time sitcom about a couple swingin' cyborg bachelors – something in the vein of "Believe It or Not" from The Greatest American Hero or Hawaiian Heat.
Based on this tune alone, I'd watch the fuck out of that.
"Something About Us" presents a stirring departure: a restrained beat of long synth tones in the back ground colored by a spare bass line and wandering wah-wah guitar. If there's a song here that I'd describe as moody and even a touch sexy, it's this one. That's even before the curiously amorous, yearning lyrics kick in. For a deep cut on an electronic pop album, it's pretty smooth stuff. A few tracks later, "Veridis Quo" kicks in and sounds initially like a lost track from a never-released 16-bit RPG. Just like many Daft Punk tracks, though, it evolves and escalates quickly. A Giorgio Moroder-style drum track picks up and adds a second, building synth line. These two main parts fade across one another to and from center-stage for 5:45 when time just stands at ease.
To close out the album, the pair throw in the fittingly titled "Too Long," an exuberant 10-minute track of soulful and unusually untouched vocals over a punchy, bass-heavy beat. It builds throughout the run time into almost a medley that nods to the stylistic best parts of the whole album. It's a good song, but…..ye gods, 10 minutes? Really?
Of course, that's the closest I can manage to a "complaint" about the album. In an interview with Remix Magazine Online leading up to its release, Thomas Bangalter said this:
This album has a lot to do with our childhood and the memories of the state we were in at that stage of our lives. It's about our personal relationship to that time. It's less of a tribute to the music from 1975 to 1985 as an era and more about focusing on the time when we were zero to ten years old. When you're a child you don't judge or analyze music. You just like it because you like it. You're not concerned with whether it's cool or not. Sometimes you might relate to just one thing in a song, such as the guitar sound. This album takes a playful, fun, and colorful look at music. It's about the idea of looking at something with an open mind and not asking too many questions. It's about the true, simple, and honest relationship you have with music when you're open to your own feelings.
I could say it much better. This is why I dig these two.
There's this pithy, bitter little movement among some people to just detest Daft Punk, because….reasons. Personally, I don't get it. If it sounds good to you, if it moves you, then what the hell else really matters? This is an album that's simply alive with the joy of all the music they grew up listening to, and it shows. It's a love letter to a time before pretension and secondary agendas ruled music, when it was just about giving a language and voice to something inside that wanted out.
When something launches into that unique connecting dialect, then everything else is just a matter of whether it's a pretty young woman or a haggard old man speaking it. Cliché as it might sound, real recognizes real, again and again. Up until Random Access Memories, this was pretty high up with the TRON: Legacy OST as my favorite Daft Punk album.
True, this year's album didn't in any way diminish the quality of this one, but it seconded it in exemplifying when Daft Punk are at their very best and most enjoyable.
Thanks for stopping by, kids. Never dull your colors for someone else's canvas.