Bringing some swag to our highest federal court.
“Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit – all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.”
Dance music — particularly in all of its electronic strains — is supposed to be agreeable, driven by a deep beat to pump an offer through your blood that your heart and bones can’t refuse. The new Daft Punk record is proving divisive in this context, however, and while I’m not inclined to throw another opinionated rating (“mild 6!” No way, 8.9!”) into the mix, I am interested in exploring what it is about the release that we’re actually reacting to.
Parts of Random Access Memories dwell in esoteric themes that feel too indulgent for the dance floor, even “schmaltzy” as many reviewers have offered. Meanwhile, there are beautiful, sometimes epic movements and grooves across these songs and sonically the album is undeniably silky, as if each track was spun onto tape by a spider, not a robot.
Daft Punk are reaching into the 1970s to inform their prescient view of what’s next. The album curiously employs disco sensibility as a device to show progression, not to simply emulate and celebrate the past, but to recreate the vibe of then as a commentary on where we are now. Curiosity is not simple. It naturally evades abbreviation (á la EDM). An exploration of the past and pondering of the future should be complex, presenting a challenge that packs a reward. Whether or not you find that reward in RAM is a personal matter.
On the surface, Daft Punk’s latest take on dance does feel like it’s coming up short, lacking in brute force what it needs to be the soundtrack of 2013 ragers. It’s missing the adrenaline for the masses, as if shunning the fist pump that has made its way into all corners of our culture. Can a chilled-out sound still be dance, still be party music? The French duo may be offering advice: you need to groove a little more, to find power and ecstasy in the softness — and you need to find a way to do that while acknowledging the future ahead, where robots and all things digital will play an integral role in our lives.
Nile Rodgers is the man.
For now, though, “it’s an era of contentment” for him and the band. “With this music malarkey, I used to bang my head against the wall, but now I’ve learned the way through the maze a bit better,” he says. “I can still get lost, but my emotional equilibrium isn’t as tied into it.
-Yannis Philippakis, Foals
Make something that says something. At least make selling beautiful.
“think of evolutionary dynamics as the exploration, in time, by the biosphere, of the adjacent possible”
After reading W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, I quickly moved on to another one of his works, The Summing Up, which is something of an autobiography and meditation on writing. Maugham gives what struck me as profound advice: that the writer should aim for LUCIDITY, SIMPLICITY, and EUPHONY (in that order).