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New Music Tuesday: Daft Punk • The National • Majical Cloudz

NMT-Daft-Punk
Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

Daft PunkRandom Access Memories

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Doin’ It Right”
“Giorgio By Moroder”
“Instant Crush”
“Lose Yourself to Dance”

Album Highlights: Arguably the most anticipated album of the last five (perhaps even ten) years, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories departs from the group’s signature “robot rock” and brings listeners deeper into the production minds of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, the duo that has been at the forefront of electronic music since the late 90’s. Reviews have been scattered for this album, and many fans are disappointed with the departure from their “traditional” sound. Random Access Memories is much more a full band “roots” record for Daft Punk and an homage to the music that inspired them to create their own unique sound. The album is contemporary but with obvious nods to influencers such as Griorgio Moroder, while at the same time giving a throwback feel to the days of funk and soul, where dance floors were commanded by elaborate multi-piece bands and not a solitary DJ.

“Doin’ it Right” is a gem. The slightly odd voice of Animal Collective’s Panda Bear projects his Brian Wilson-esqe voice over a Daft robot voice, repeating words about ‘dancing’ and ‘doin’ it right’. While the lyrics are a bit cheesy, it’s the simplicity and catchiness of the song that hits home; it’s a track I could listen to for hours on end and not get tired of. “Giorgio by Moroder” starts with a monologue by Giorgio himself, which is an interesting choice that is sure to annoy DJ’s. Once the interview intro is done, the track breaks into one of the more traditional Daft Punk style songs with a Giorgio touch found in the synth and sequencer used. “Instant Crush” features The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas on vocals, filtered to give him a distant, robotic, over-the-phone appeal. Key parts of the song also sound similar to earlier Daft (especially “Something About Us” off Discovery), which adds to the song’s forlorn, distant-love quality. Finally, “Lose Yourself to Dance” brings in flashbacks of funk, building up over guitar, handclaps, and Pharell’s high-pitched vocals to set a groove that is built to move the masses.

Album Lowlight: I really didn’t find many particular lowlights on the long-awaited Random Access Memories. I wasn’t a huge fan “Fragment’s of Time” at first, as it had a sort of yacht-rock adult contemporary vibe to it, but it has grown on me. I think it would be too early, even after about 30 plays, to pick a lowlight. I have considerations, but it’s a complex album and my choices for lowlight seem to shift with each listen.

Takeaway: Regardless of what Daft Punk was trying to channel in RAM, it’s hard for any group or DJ to deliver on such stratospheric expectations. Inevitably fans will feel either let down or ecstatic with the album, depending on their willingness to be influenced and where they are musically. I don’t think too many college-aged ragers are going to be digging this, as it’s fist pumping appeal is minimal, if even existent.

It should be noted though that prior to this album, Daft Punk had a much smaller mass appeal, with many fans only latching onto them during the start of the “EDM” craze. Most of these fans never realized that Daft Punk were using samples from old funk albums and putting them through filters, pitch bends, tempo changes and other signature French house effects in order to give credit to the songs that inspire them, while still stamping them with their signature “robot” sound (Justice does the same exact thing). Random Access Memories sounds much like an album that Daft Punk would want to sample from; nothing is pitch bent, filtered, or changed in order to take it back to where the sound truly originated – it’s almost all organic here.

I think the really interesting thing will be seeing which remix producers don’t just rearrange the parts, but use these songs just as Daft Punk did with older albums that inspired them, taking these samples, filter them, and make them their own tracks. I, along with others, feel this album is what the dance world needs right now: a return to real production, thought, and care when it comes to making dance music. So much of what’s been happening the last few years has become about getting louder and more commercially viable while sacrificing quality and care, and hopefully Random Access Memories helps press the reset button on this.

~Sean Little


The NationalTrouble Will Find Me

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Don’t Swallow the Cap”
“Sea of Love”
“Humiliation”

Album Highlights: Being melancholy has never been so exciting! The Dessner brothers, the Devendorf brothers and Matt Berninger bring the dark joy of another album release, and they have kept on the same track they have steadily been building for over a decade. Trouble Will Find Me is a thick slice of the unmistakable baritone of Berninger coupled with the driving force of the pair of brothers, backing amazingly true-life lyrics dealing with the imperfections we all deal with in our lives. “Sea of Love,” the first single, is a prime example of the feverish construction the National pump out so consistently, and mirrors previous releases in this same manner. Their ability to bring contemplation to records, then transcribe the material to energetic intensity in a live format is one that few bands have continuously achieved over the past 14 years, and fully demonstrates that something special is happening here. Also, Berninger’s voice sounds smoother and richer than ever, apparently due to quitting smoking before recording.

Album Lowlight: The National have truly cultivated a sound and style all their own, and they achieve this without many bells, whistles or electronic elements. Some parts of this record, and the band’s overall sound, take on a simple characteristic as demonstrated through basic harmonies, chord progressions and even drums beats. It’s with this formula that some songs begin to sound familiar. My best example for this is when new track “Graceless” is stacked against Boxer’s “Brainy.” I suppose these likenesses are byproducts of members’ individual style. On the other hand, luckily the lyrics are more relatable and less violent than previous release, High Violet.

Takeaway: Trouble Will Find Me is truly just another brick in an immaculately constructed structure that is the releases of The National. It’s fair to say the masses didn’t expect much less from one of the most consistent acts in the business, and I for one cannot wait to see how these songs are blisteringly performed on the live stage. In the meantime, there is plenty of time to further pull all the meaning out of this batch of 13 new tracks, full of real world angst slightly veiled with optimism.

~Kevin Quandt


Majical CloudzImpersonator

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Bugs Don’t Buzz”
“Childhood’s End”
“Silver Rings”

Album Highlights: Majical Cloudz combines Devon Welsh’s clear vocals over minimalist organ/synth/piano-led beats from Matthew Otto, and the result is dreary, hanging-onto-hope emotional state of an album from the Canadian duo. The style of Welsh’s vocal-front arrangement fakes the listener into a literal interpretation of his lyrics. It’s all about the subtleties and what’s not being said behind the poetic phrasing. The inferences made while listening are more striking than what Welsh says; you can tell there is real pain, that Welsh has loved and lost, and that he’s only recently come to embrace his place in the world. What’s most inspirational is how Welsh’s vocals plow through the cloud of sad ambiance like a strong beam of light, searching for a permanent place away from depression.

“Childhood’s End” is a sad track that uses the simple refrain of “Went down, went down went down…” to establish an emotional, spiraling tone. The strings and vocal moans in “Silver Rings” contrast and question the lyrics “I don’t think about dying alone”, especially when shortly thereafter Welsh cries out “Stay with me”. “Bugs Don’t Buzz” is the most memorable, poetic track on the record, it’s essence summed up with the line, “It pays to be on the edge of existence, just riding the surface my love.”

Album Lowlight: The effect of Majical Cloudz is comparable to the feeling you get during the first part of a typical Sigur Rós song – but you don’t get the hopeful, transcendent payoffs the icelandic wonders give. Impersonator is dreary yet hauntingly beautiful, but ultimately one-note; it’s hard to see the replay value in this record going forward due to it’s super-somber effect. This is the kind of record that should get heavy play when a family member dies. Conversely, these intense, morose-minimalist power ballads like ‘I Do Sing For You” will fit perfectly into an appropriate cinematic moment or scene on the small or big screen, if they haven’t been used to score visual imagery already.

Takeaway: Welsh’s poetic waxing comes off like an endless soliloquy that’s best listened to in an immersive situation – being stoned with headphones on or live in concert – but I wouldn’t exactly plan your Friday evening around this experience. I saw Majical Cloudz open for Autre Ne Veut in March, and Welsh is somehow physically more intense and brooding than his songwriting in person. He blasts stand-offish stares into his front-row victims, moving from face to face looking deep into the eyes of each concert goer. I remember reading the following description of Welsh’s live performance before the show, and I’m still not seeing the “Fun loving” part:

Majical Cloudz is a music project and performance event. Negative and ecstatic. Fun-loving. Seeking relationships with audiences to share transforming experiences.

Welsh & Otto played most, if not all of this album at The Independent two months ago, and I can attest that Welsh and Otto have the intensity and drive to pull this project off, especially if the goal is to “share transforming experiences.” Just see this act on a random Monday or if you’re in the mood for lost-languid lyrics over morose music beds.

~Mike Frash


AlpineA is For Alpine

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Gasoline”
“Hands”
“Too Safe”

Album Highlights: Alpine’s new album is anything but new. A is for Alpine was released in Australia in 2012, and after a long and tumultuous journey, it has finally made its way to the northern hemisphere. Dawning from Melbourne, Australia, Alpine has become a household name to many Australians and they are just now making a name for themselves in the States. Alpine’s sound combines the dreamy vocal harmonies of Phoebe Baker and Louisa James with post-punk, electro-laced beats. Highly danceable, A is for Alpine is filled with catchy hooks and driving beats that don’t get stale. This is a sparkling debut album from one of Melbourne’s hottest and upcoming bands.

Album Lowlight: What took them so long to get to the USA? The lowlight is that they’ve been depriving us of this magical album for almost a year.

Takeaway: A is for Alpine is a fantastic album, pairing Phoebe and Louisa’s vocals with the driving electro-surfy-synth to make an upbeat yet soothing record. The songs are catchy, engaging and stay fresh throughout the album. Alpine is still relatively unknown, but that might not last for long. They will be appearing at the Great American Music Hall June 8th, opening for Crystal Fingers.

~Kevin Raos


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Comments

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Trackbacks

  1. […] is yet another act who has been garnering a great deal of attention with his work on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories – he produced the intense, final track “Contact”. Expect a set heavy on house tunes, and […]

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