Street Sounds: Robots show they have heart

Dean Gordon-Smith reviews the latest from French electronic/house duo Daft Punk

These robots have names, songs, wild and heavenly sounds, and a no-limits head space inside their helmets.

The French electronic/house duo Daft Punk’s (Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo) fifth album Random Access Memories swirls in on a wave of disco-fied Krautrock (Give Life Back to Music) that stretches the boundaries of trance rock, electronica, and funk.

It’s very creative.

Daft Punk have been futurists since their first record, Homework, and its rolling synthed-out hit Around the World.

Random Access Memories is a great leap back to Earth, bringing new ideas to plug into their keyboards and synthesizers. But behold! They’re back to jam with drums, guitars, bass, singers and songwriters. The sound of the future meets the past, and saw that it was good.

Electronic music pioneer Giorgio Moroder is hailed on an interesting moment of discovery, Giorgio by Moroder. The auteur gives a conversational autobiographical sound bite over Daft Punk’s update to a beatnik poetry/jazz jam before launching into an instrumental loop that summons the spirits of Donna Summer and Midnight Express – the elaborate fruits of ‘70s disco.

These sounds are cleaned up and notched up high on Lose Yourself to Dance. Daft Punk match up with Pharrell Williams on vocals and the graceful guitar duo of Nile Rodgers and Paul Jackson Jr. for some autobahn-fuelled funk that struts with an amped up disco groove.

These jolly fellows turned Strokes’ frontman Julian Casablancas into a man of steel for his effective Mr. Roboto-like turn on Instant Crush – an emotional performance on some trippy Euro rock.

The duo has a leveling ability to make a left field idea seem like a regular gesture. In a classic display of Gallic impressionism they bring composer/singer/songwriter Paul Williams in to reprise his mopey ‘70s self absorption on to a robot character in Touch. The result is like some weird cabaret – it’s strange enough to work.

It also sets the mood for the next track. In an effective move of song pacing and mood management, the single Get Lucky takes the minor-key holdover and runs far with it.

The Punk’s grafting of the Williams/Rodgers/Parker ensemble onto their backwards/forwards electro-funk is a logical direction for disco – just keep going!

The sounds and ideas dreamed up by Daft Punk travel back and forth several decades and drops threads between early electronic rock and its disco-bred roots. The impersonal nature of the duo allows them the freedom to create and unite Euro-rock sounds and electronic links with a disparate and inspired cast of stars for some sonic glory.

Dean Gordon-Smith is a musician in Vernon, B.C. and a longtime music reviewer for The Morning Star, appearing every Friday.