Archives for the month of: May, 2013

Album Review: Random Access Memories, Daft Punk (Daft Life Limited/Columbia Records, 2013)

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I am very late to the party on this one. Daft Punk gained a loyal following after their debut release, Homework (Daft Life/Virgin, 1997) and grew into a techno/house mega-act after 2001’s Discovery (Daft Life, Virgin). But not until their hotly anticipated Random Access Memories (Daft Life/Columbia, 2013) started making waves did I come upon this synth duo from France.

Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter (a.k.a. Daft Punk) helped shape the French House music scene in the 1990’s and innovated their own brand of synth pop and techno through futuristic synth sounds and the extensive use of the vocoder. The duo uses robot costumes in their performances, which are the finishing touch to Daft Punk as a concept band.

Random Access Memories, much like Homework and Discovery, has a range of music that will appeal to different tastes. There are pure synth arrangements like “Contact,” “Motherboard,” and “Giorgio by Moroder,” the latter featuring a monologue from electronic music pioneer Giorgio Moroder, who the band no doubt holds in high regard.

Pop features prominently as well. The first single, “Get Lucky,” featuring Pharrell Williams, reached #1 in the UK and has the best hook we’ve heard in a long time from Nile Rodgers, whose funky guitar lines are also prominent on “Give Life Back to Music.” But even Rodgers can’t save some of the more repetitive songs like “Lose Yourself to Dance” and “Doin’ it Right.” These tracks lack the dynamism of Daft Punk’s better work, offering only flat and trudging choruses.

More downtempo tracks like “Instant Crush,” “Beyond,” “The Game of Love,” and “Within” range from nice ballads to more experimental outings. “Touch,” featuring 70’s songwriter Paul Williams is one such experiment that has its moments but ultimately leaves the listener wondering how it made the cut in its current form.

The surprise of the lot is “Fragments of Time,” featuring the vocals of American house producer Todd Edwards. This track evokes a beautiful 70’s progressive soft rock vibe (like dare I say, Steely Dan). Edwards’ vocals are front-and-centre and the synth effects are reigned in as tasteful accompaniment. It’s the standout track on the album, even moreso than “Get Lucky.”

I don’t normally write about mainstream music so this post has turned out to be  somewhat of an accident. When I started tracking Daft Punk some months ago, I didn’t realize how big they were and what a massive pop record this would become. The marketing machine behind it included a viral video campaign with mini documentaries featuring each of the collaborators on the album (this one with Giorgio Moroder is particularly interesting). TV ads were run and I recently found it featured in a Target flyer, of all places.

Although Daft Punk is not something I would normally place in my musical wheelhouse, I made some nice discoveries not only on this album but also from their back catalog. I’m glad I ran into them.

Album Review: Leap of Faith, Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick (Shanachie, March 2013)

imagesTo die-hard Incognito fans like me, the news of co-founder and premier songwriter Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick’s debut solo release came with some cautious optimism. Optimistic because Bluey is a brilliant songwriter and producer. Cautious because without his usual cadre of Incognito collaborators, I wondered what would be left behind.

Stylistically, the album has a fairly broad range, from R&B tracks like “Take a chance on me” and “Keep myself together” to “Live like a millionaire,” a fun-filled ode to the Isley Brothers’ “It’s your thing.” Bluey even uses spoken word in the title track, telling Nelson Mandela’s story through verse, overtop a heavy bass groove. My favourite track, however, is “If you really wanna,” laden with breezy acoustic guitars and vocals.

The first single, “Got to let my feelings show,” is an uplifting and danceable track, driven by syncopated synth lines from  Domenic ‘Ski’ Oakenfull. Oakenfull, a former Incognito keyboardist, also lends his production chops to “Ain’t nobody’s business but my own,” the most electronically influenced track in the collection.

The vocals Incognito fans have come to expect accompanying this calibre of songs are normally delivered by spectacular talents like Maysa Leak, Tony Momrelle, and more recently, Natalie Williams. Bluey’s vocals are not as distinctive or powerful but that’s hardly a criticism. Making his ‘leap of faith’ to put this record out, you have to give it to Bluey for trying something outside of his tried and true formula for success. His vocals, though unfamiliar at first, emerge into an authentic style that Maunick and his fans can embrace.

Stepping outside of the Incognito umbrella, Maunick has remained whole and revealed something new. Leap of Faith is a remarkable outing from a legend in jazz-funk and R&B who proves again he is an endless source of great songs and satisfying grooves.