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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Daft Punk - Discovery (2001)

As I write this my wife is over forty-weeks pregnant; she was due on the 13th September and we are still waiting for the little bugger to crawl his way out. Last Thursday, we went for an appointment to see the midwife at our local doctor’s surgery. We arrived about 20 minutes early for the two o’clock appointment, and had to sit in the waiting room while a local radio station was piped in through the surgery at quite an annoying volume. It dawned on me while we were sitting twiddling our thumbs that I live in a musical bubble: I don’t go clubbing; I go to pubs that play the music I like and avoid the ones that don’t; and I only tend to listen to 6 Music. So when our appointment ran late, and we were forced to sit for almost an hour as the surgery continued to pump out the deluge of shit that Radio Aire call music, I realised that I was out of touch. I don’t get why every other song has to be slathered with Auto-Tune vocals – it makes everything sound homogeneous and robotic.

I feel like I’m turning into one of those men who used to talk to me after gigs and moan about ‘computer music’. I don’t want to be one of these grumpy old men in their faded Status Quo t-shirts and stonewashed jeans whining about how they used to write ‘proper songs’ and ‘now it’s all done on machines’, but damn it the stuff I was hearing was horrible. What is perhaps a saving grace is that I know in my heart that I am still seeking emerging artists and innovative music, it is just that I feel somewhat alienated from much of what is going on with popular culture, but at the same time, I’m also not one of these people who will take a disliking to something because it’s popular – I’ll take a disliking to something if it’s not very good.

Daft Punk have a lot to answer for when it comes to the popularisation of Antares Auto-Tune. They have a lot to answer for in the same way that Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath have a lot to answer for in the emergence of Hair Metal, or Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More have a lot to answer for in inspiring Nu-Metal. It’s a testament to innovation that people can misinterpret or emphasise certain elements of what you do and make it sound pretty horrible. But like most innovators, their original efforts still retain their quality after their innovations have been over-mined – this is the sign of a great artist.

Discovery opens with the oft-played ‘One More Time’ a tune that I can’t help but love. It’s just a fantastic dance record that hits you with amazing chord changes and anthemic feel-good vocals. ‘Aerodynamic’ starts with the gongs of death bells, reminding me of the Undertaker’s entrance music in WWE. It then bursts in with a syncopated funk-driven rhythm that phases around the mix before hitting you with a spiky, Bach-inspired guitar riff that Yngwie Malmsteen would be proud of, though I’m sure he’d use a real guitar and not one those computers they have nowadays to make the music. ’Digital Love’ reminds me of the theme music that would appear on an anime film from the early-90s about a teenage boy who goes on an adventure and ends up having to save the world. This is a really cheesy track, but I just can’t help but fall for its charm. ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ reminds me of just how good Daft Punk are. A couple of years back, Kanye West sampled parts of this in his track ‘Stronger’; this was an awesome hip-hop track, but when you hear the Daft Punk original it pales in comparison. ‘Crecendolls’ reminds me of one of Basement Jaxx’s party anthems. I was never really a fan of this song, but I saw them play live at the Wireless Festival in Leeds, 2007 and this track was excellent - there was just a field full of people going crazy to it. ‘Superheroes’ manages to tread the fine line between hypnotic and boring. A vocal line is repeated over and over, and it feels that at the end of each vocal loop, a little bit more instrumentation is added to the mix so that by the middle of the song it verges on the chaotic. We are then treated to what sounds a little like the theme music to Battle of the Planets. This isn’t my favourite song on the album. ‘High Life’ shows why the French are the best when it comes to making house music. Its only letdown is that it doesn’t seem to evolve. You have the core sample, a melody is added over it, beats come in, beats go out, the melody goes out, comes back in, beats come in, repeat. ‘Something About Us’ drifts into the realm of Sly and the Family Stone’s more laid back offerings, with its relaxed popping bass and subtle vocals. This is a really sensitive song that shows that Daft Punk aren’t simply one trick ponies (though having one trick to make excellent dance music isn’t such a bad thing). ‘Veridis Quo’ sounds like something that Vangelis may have produced in the early-80s. It’s a cheesy track, and doesn’t have the charm of ‘Digital Love’ to fall back on. ‘Short Circuit’ sounds like something Run DMC might have done had they had access to more modern equipment. With its old-skool Hip-Hop beats and orchestral hits, I expected a rapper to come in at any moment, but instead we are treated to off-key synths, off-beat drums and electronic glitches. It’s a track that would fit perfectly on the soundtrack to the videogame FEZ. Album closer ‘Too Long’ lives up to its name - it’s over ten minutes in length. It’s another one of those house tracks that doesn’t really go anywhere beyond the vocal and sample loop. I suppose if the foundation of your song is a sample loop, there is only so much you can do around it.

On the whole, this is a very good album. There are a few tracks that feel like filler, but there are some truly excellent pieces of music on here. This album is definitely a keeper, and I intend to see Daft Punk live the next time they are in the UK – hopefully they’ll bring back their giant pyramid and space suits.

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