On Tuesday, the French electro-funk duo Daft Punk finally released Random Access Memories, after a marketing campaign that garnered colossal amounts excitement from people who like to dance everywhere.
Now, globally, people are entering a phase of disappointment at the lack of throbbing, boom-bap moments of sheer electro-gasm in this ambitious concept album. Soon, they will learn to love the effervescence of the funky groove in Random Access Memories.
Much noise has been made about Daft Punk’s decision to abandon the practice of sampling for a completely originally sourced, studio-centric journey back to the future. How ironic it is that their last album should be called Alive and not this one. The two robots, their virtuoso collaborators, and the phalanx of vocoders, filters, sequencers, and other vintage sound ware birthed something that is original. The sounds of Random Access Memories are unperturbed by the postmodern practice of using somebody else’s material to make one’s own.
It might shock you to know just how much of a departure this non-sampling is from their past practices. Daft Punk, the twin gods, did more than just use an obscure sound sample here and there, they were overtly using the entire musical scopes of songs. Here are just a few of the overt ones. Careful, when I first discovered these obscure tracks, it felt like I suddenly found I was adopted and I was meeting my biological parents, so brace yourself.
When Kanye West sampled the vocoded lyrics of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" in his hit song "Stronger" did he know he was extrapolitating what, as far as my ear can hear, is one of the only original elements provided by Daft Punk in "their" song? The high-hat, synth, and funk twang are entirely in tact in Birdsong's 1980 deep cut.
So much for "our work is never over." Most of this song's creation happened 20 years before Daft Punk ever existed.
This track of 2001's Discovery is a deeper dig into Daft Punk's collection, and an equally overt out-and-out ripoff from deep within the crates of late seventies electro funk.
Although these tracks are credited in the liner notes, personally, I think the obscurity of the sample only makes it more heinous. It's as if Guy-Man and Thomas thought they could get away with their carbon copy homages. And they did. Nobody except the robots themselves would ever read that deep into an album sleeve, even in 2001, when people still occasionally bought actual albums.
I think a similar thread is evident in Discovery. The robots carefully plucked intros from the songs of their youth, and expounded on them with varying depth.
So, in effect, the true crime isn't their lack of authorship, its their sneakiness in choosing the overlooked songs. Given, nobody needs a remix to more popular music, (although I'm sure Flo Rida, sampling's biggest hack of today, would disagree). However, hearing the uncanny similarity between "Digital Love" and Duke's 1979 pop effort bring up a bit of stirring indignance. Then again, there is that infectious hook in the middle of "Digital Love" that causes the hairs on the back of my neck to stand. That part of the song is original isn't it?....Is it?
This example is more subtle, but it still deserves mentioning. "One More Time" was Daft Punk's biggest hit- until "Get Lucky" started its bid for hit song of the summer- and thus attention should be paid to this similar riff from Eddie Johns.
Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter denied using a sample for the song, and the liner notes reflect this denial. Avid music geeks still dispute this, however, and claim that the horn section may have been heavily modified for "One More Time."
"Face to Face" samples in a way that is also quite subtle, and, ultimately, acceptable. This track the first collaboration between Daft Punk and Todd Edwards, who, as he said in the fantastic promotional series The Collaborators, "I cut up various samples into fragments and reassemble them to make the futuristic flow that I'm known for." Among these fragments is the distorted guitar riff from the Chorus of Electric Light Orchestra's 1976 hit song "Evil Woman," which, in fact, is decidedly more well known than "Face to Face."
This one angered me the most. I love "Robot Rock." On their 2007 album Alive, Daft Punk milk the huge sound of this track with an opening that has all the subtlety of a crash landing "Rooooooooo....boooooot.... HUUU-MAAA-AAA-NNNNNN-EEEE." Little did I know that this way ridiculous intro of theirs lead to a funk-metal climax (at about 2:19 in the video above) that was entirely lifted from another song's intro. How much does Daft Punk really change the riff from Breakwater's original work? They don't really, they chop up a few seconds to stretch out anticipation, and then they let the sample ride out on a loop and say "Rock, Robot Rock" a bunch of times. The truth can be so damn disappointing.