Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Those Were My Jams, Jan-April: Daft Punk

More of the music I loved in the first four months of this year. And so from one example of French electronic dance music which uses a sheen of fiction to keep the real humans firmly behind the scenes (Kavinsky) to another. Daft Punk's Random Access Memories is on its way, the radio edit of Get Lucky is the first single, and it's spent the last two weeks infecting my brain. Here's why:



The most potent metaphor for how a Daft Punk record sounds is still Michel Gondry's video for Around the World. Five sets of cartoonish characters - robots, mummies, skeletons, synchronised swimmers, giant baby-headed athletes - each embody one element of the song, and are shuffled around, stopped, brought higher in the mix, according to the music.

Like all the best Daft Punk songs, that's pretty much exactly how Get Lucky works. There are a few basic sounds at play: a near-falsetto vocal hook and two verses, courtesy of Pharrell; the disco-future spangle of Nile Rodgers' guitar; some pelvis-thrusting bass; the simplest of drum patterns; and some handclaps. These essential building blocks are all established quite early on, the song's first minute just laying them out like a magician shows the audience a set of interlinked rings, or an empty sleeve.

Then, as they loop these base elements, Daft Punk start to work their magic. What if you stripped back the instruments, and pushed handclaps to the fore instead? What if you replaced Pharrell's voice with a decaying digitised version? And what if you then brought Pharrell back and made it him duke it out with his robotic double, at opposite ends of the octave?

The song just toys with those same few elements - and maybe some synths, though they sound as if they're building off samples of other bits of the same song - for 4 minutes 44 seconds, and then it fades out.

Honestly, there's not much to Get Lucky. It's a very slight song, in a way that invites being played on repeat (and knows that it will get just what it wants - that "Like the legend of the phoenix/All ends with beginnings" opening salvo is a cheeky wink). I'm talking about how it sounds, how it feels, the surface stuff, because I know if I probed any deeper I'd find it was hollow inside.

But the genius of the song lies in its precision. On the surface, it seems joyful and easy-going, but given that I haven't been this addicted to a song since the aural crack of Paper Aeroplanes, I can only conclude that it's actually very serious business.

Each sound is weighed out carefully, mixed in alchemically exact combinations, and ultimately weaponised into something that directly attacks my nervous system in a way that makes it get exceedingly funky. I don't think that's just dumb luck.

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.