Currently Listening to: Saturation by Brockhampton
A little over a month ago Daft Punk announced their retirement from music. At least one can assume that by the somewhat goofy snippet of Guy Manuel’s robot exploding in the middle of the desert. This was followed by Thomas Bangalter walking into the sunset alone. It’d be a lie to say this wasn’t expected. The duo hadn’t released anything since 2013’s Random Access Memories, unless you count their work on The Weeknd’s album, Starboy, or their production on Kanye West’s Yeezus and Arcade Fire’s Everything Now. Their influence and style influenced a lot of artists that we hear on the radios nowadays too. Artists like Disclosure and Mark Ronson both credited them as massive influences to the electronic and rock genres. It seemed like when they initially broke up on February 21st of this year, everyone had something to say.
It is very rare that an act like Daft Punk comes around and has an influence carry into three separate decades the way theirs did. They did so much for the house scene, modern electronic music, and even rock. Daft Punk was an act that it seemed like everyone wanted to work with. From Nile Rodgers of Chic, The Weeknd, Julian Casablancas, Paul Williams, to even Kanye West. They also can be credited to having one of the first ‘viral’ videos on YouTube. Their song Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger was accompanied by two hands that had all the lyrics written on various fingers and the palms. They also released an anime to play in part with their album Discovery called “Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem”.
As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed their music over the years. I didn’t always talk about them, but they were always that one group that had a nearly flawless discography. I thought in honor of their retirement I would rank their albums (including Daft Club and the live albums) by my personal enjoyment. Also as much as I liked the Tron Legacy Soundtrack I didn’t feel the need to rank it in the mix. Hope you enjoy!
7. Daft Club (2003)
Daft Club is sort of a remix album for Discovery. I felt the need to include this album because I feel as though it puts a unique spin on some of the tracks from that record and also it just slaps. I love a handful of the remixes like the Basement Jaxx remix of Phoenix to make it sound more grimy and aggressive or the Demon remix of Face to Face. What makes a remix album sort of easy to pick on though is that sometimes there is just a singular bass drop added or a different beat strung throughout the original song to make it danceable. This doesn’t happen AS much as a normal remix album, but there’s still a few. The Aerodynamic remixes don’t really add anything new or fresh to the original version.
What makes this album really worthy of being included on this list other than a handful of really solid remixes is the few B-Sides in the mix. Aerodynamite and Ouverture could replace two songs from Discovery and fit right in. The one standalone track though, Something About Us, is a perfect single. I know that it’s also on Discovery, but in the context of this project I think it fits in better. I love this song so much. I get a lot of nostalgia from this song not only because of the anime it is from, but also because this used to play at a job I had a number of years ago. It seemed like every time I went to use the bathroom this song would come on. Thanks to Daft Punk for making the perfect soundtrack to poop to.
6. Alive 1997
Daft Punk is infamous for putting on spectacular live shows. This was the one that started them all or at least gained the most traction first. There’s not a whole lot to be said about this one except that this album definitely stands out against most live albums. Even with just one album under their belt, Daft Punk was able to make a Birmingham crowd very excited. The transitions from song to song were mostly smooth and the crowd energy made the album more enjoyable too.
While it’s impressive that the energy and vibe created on this record was very fun and enjoyable since Homework is a very solid album, the amount of material sort of wares thin after a while. The music is still above average, but after a while the energy fades away until the very end when it goes crazy again. Alive 1997 also plays very well with car speakers, so if you have a car and your car has somewhat good bass then this album is perfect for that. Nothing too special, just an easy listen.
5. Human After All (2005)
My first exposure to anything from Human After All is one day coming home from the movies I heard this song coming from my older brother’s room. As I walked past on the way to my room I stopped and listened because sometimes I would hear something I liked. This was not the case this time. I was like “damn this song is repetitive.” That song was The Prime Time of Your Life.
A few years later I gave this album a chance just because I liked Daft Punk’s other material and this was the last one I hadn’t heard all the way through. Prime Time of Your Life has slowly become one of my favorite tracks. I love the slow build-up and the layering that comes about every passing minute. The fast buildup towards the end leading to insanity gives me goosebumps.
Human After All has a lot of grimy songs, more than any Daft Punk album in the past. There’s a lot of distortion and fuzz put into the beats creating this almost dystopian atmosphere. The opener and self-titled track is prime example. It’s very a very rock inspired house track that sort of leads you to believe the rest of the album will be like that too. Sadly, it’s not and that’s one of the biggest issues with Human After All. It’s a pretty spotty record with really high highs and some semi-forgettable others. This album also has the only Daft Punk song I feel tempted to skip, Steam Machine. It sounds very cool and chilling, but that’s it. It keeps the same speed throughout the entire track and that breathy ‘steeeeeeeeaaaaaam machiiiiiiiiiine’ that gets looped is borderline irritating.
To this album’s merit, some of their most iconic singles are on here too. Robot Rock is a jam for the ages. It serves as the perfect bridge of sound from Discovery to this one. It meshes the smooth production with some pretty glossy, yet heavy guitar and aggressive electronic beats. There’s a reason that this song has lasted into decades after in meme culture, but also in concerts. I’ve seen a few live shows where this song has been teased or sampled.
Overall, this album is still a good listen. I don’t return to it as quick as I would other albums of theirs, but I have at least half this album sprinkled into a few playlists of mine.
Best Tracks: Robot Rock, The Prime Time of Your Life, Television Rules the Nation, Technologic
4. Homework (1997)
I’ll never forget the first time I heard Homework. It was in the middle of study hall and I had ran through all my downloaded music. So I looked to Daft Punk, since I heard Da Funk in a video during history class (I don’t know why it was history). I didn’t expect the material I heard. Around the World and Da Funk were definitely ones I was familiar with, but wow… I didn’t love this when I first heard it. It took a few listens for it to click. Homework’s repetitiveness had to grow on me and also I became more patient and open-minded with music in the years to follow.
All publications and critics say how revolutionary this album was and what it did for the house scene. Yeah, I totally see it. Even if there’s a lot of material that sounds like this today, there’s something kinda special about Homework. It’s like a disco infused club party. Sure, you can argue that this album is 10x more repetitive than Human After All, especially since the songs tend to run longer on here too. The only difference is these house beats make sense to be played over and over. The lyrics and vocal samples on Human After All made the songs feel all the more longer. With Homework, there’s very little lyrical content at all and when there is like in Around the World it is blended into the rhythm. These make sense to be played longer.
I easily get lost in the shimmery guitars and EXTREMELY 90’s club beats. I have always loved Da Funk ever since the first time I heard it on Just Dance 3 when I was in middle school. It’s such a unique song that only gets more and more intriguing. It also sounds phenomenal on Alive 1997. Rollin’ and Scratchin’ is the second longest track on the album, but the progression makes you invested. One of the few Daft Punk songs that makes you feel something insane and maniacal.
Homework has its’ place in history for good reason. There’s a lot to love on here and it’s very much a product of its’ time. It’s not hard to see what influence this would serve to a fat chunk of electronic and EDM artists working today.
Best Tracks: Da Funk, Rollin’ and Scratchin’, Fresh, Burnin’, Revolution 909
3. Alive 2007
My number one complaint about Alive 1997 is the familiarity and the sort of distant energy. Even though by Homework they had established a pretty healthy fanbase they still had much more to do and grow. Alive 2007 is everything you could’ve wanted from a live album. Daft Punk waste no time pulling out punches and bangers starting off with Robot Rock, probably their most aggressive, yet accessible song they’d ever put out. From then on it just doesn’t slow down.
The energy that lacked from Alive 1997 is 10x more than what I could’ve asked for on 2007. At this point they had three VERY solid albums under their belt so of course the hits are gonna hit harder than ever. The amount of cheers on tracks like Around the World and Aerodynamic… MMPH it makes me miss concerts more than ever. The way that they sort of tease these well-loved tracks in other songs just shows they know their worth. This teasing only makes the payoff more special. Crescendolls is probably my second favorite track off of Discovery and the way that gets teased into Television Rules the Nation is perfect.
Somehow Daft Punk managed to pair the right songs together to make an unforgettable listening experience. Some feel destined to be put next to each other like Touch It and Technologic. Yeee-UCK what a grimy beat that one has, I love it. They even made Steam Machine sound pretty good. This is easily a perfect live album and it only makes their breakup sadder knowing we will never be treated to something like this ever again. This album confirmed that I indeed love this duo.
Best Tracks: Robot Rock/Oh Yeah, Around the World/Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, One More Time/Aerodynamic, Prime Time of Your Life/Brainwasher/Rollin’ and Scratchin’/Alive
2. Discovery (2001)
My favorite albums by Daft Punk really are interchangeable. I think that Random Access Memories sounds better on a hot, summer day. Discovery is definitely a winter album for me. There’s something very cold, yet mystical about it especially when paired up to Interstella 5555. Discovery is very hard to hate if you’re already a Daft Punk fan. To be completely frank I don’t think it’ll even be the album to win over those who don’t gravitate to their tunes in the first place (with a few exceptions). I think that comes more in their later work. As someone who loves their music though, this is nothing short of a masterpiece.
I could go on and on about how much this album’s legacy affected electronic/house music and even hip-hop, but that’s almost undermining what it did for music in general. This saw their most commercially successful songs at the time including One More Time and Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. Two tracks that have been sampled to eternity, but their influence remains constant to this day. I personally prefer Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger since I think there’s more layers and progression than One More Time. Plus the beat for whatever reason scared me as a kid. I thought the beat had something sinister and creepy underneath and in the context of the anime… well I guess I was right.
Daft Punk consistently pull all these punches that really progressed their image. They put out two pretty amazing pop songs with Something About Us and Digital Love. Something About Us even got a radio edit later on to promote Daft Club. I talked earlier about how Crescendolls was my second favorite track off Discovery. I love the circulating crescendos and chants, it makes it sound like an arena anthem of madness. It’s a good segue to the tracks that follow, which tend to be a bit more groovy than the tracks that proceeded it.
So what is my favorite song off Discovery? That would be Digital Love. Digital Love is without a doubt Daft Punk’s best song. It services as an introduction to the type of music they would be making moving forward and the sound that we have come to love since Homework. This is also their most poppy song at the time. There’s very few songs in their early discography that have that basis of a first and second verse, bridge, and chorus. Digital Love has all of these and through every verse that follows there’s a new layer added to it. I love how punchy the synths are in the chorus and how they function as the vocals with no words. The grooves are beautiful and soothing too and it all gets brought home with that kick-ass guitar solo. What a perfect single.
I never felt bored at any point on this record. From beginning to end there’s just a story told through these wonderful instrumentals and talk-box lyrics that even out of context of the anime take you on a journey through different genres and elevations of mood. I feel very happy with One More Time, lovey with Something About Us, emotional with Veridis Quo, amped up with Aerodynamic, and complete with Too Long.
There’s very few albums I’ve heard in my life that make me feel as many emotions as Discovery does. Their main focus and mission was to create an homage to the sounds of their childhood. Daft Punk definitely wears their influences on their sleeve, especially on what I consider to be their best album. If you haven’t heard Discovery before what’re you doing bro? Get on it!
Best Tracks: Veridis Quo, Crescendolls, Digital Love, Something About Us, Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
1. Random Access Memories (2013)
I’m sure plenty of Daft Punk fans would disagree with me, but Random Access Memories was the album that they were destined to make. Their fourth and final studio album is easily their magnum opus.
It could just be me wearing my nostalgia goggles, but the rollout and promotion was flawless. They promoted the SHIT out of Get Lucky and was the teaser track for their somewhat mysterious album ads on TV. I distinctly remember them airing these promotions during Saturday Night Live and every week for I believe three weeks there’d be a new element added to the commercial. This was until it said “Daft Punk” in flashy gold letters and the merging of the two helmets to make the album cover. I can’t remember the last time I had seen an album commercial since then. Sad.
Discovery was the culmination of all their childhood influences and putting their spin on it. The soundtrack of their youth. Random Access Memories is the utilizing and partnering of their influences. This includes Paul Williams, Nile Rodgers, and of course Giorgio Moroder. It’s almost as if Discovery was the preface to their career and RAM is the wrap-up or the narration to their career. The obvious hint is Giorgio By Moroder where Giorgio tells the story of how he found inspiration and made his way into the world of music. He said with his music he wanted to combine the sounds of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and the future. Sound familiar? This nine minute track is one of their longest, but it’s such an infectious beat that pays homage to their hero and tells a great story too. If you haven’t seen it before, watch the interview of Giorgio telling the story of how Daft Punk recorded that song, it’s awesome.
Speaking of storytelling, Touch is another track that will inspire you. Paul Williams’ feature starts off distorted and fuzzed with this sort of grimy, almost Time to Pretend by MGMT type beat. Then this somewhat dirty distortion turns into a clear, soft spoken “Touch”. A story then follows of questioning where your place in life is and what you can do to find it. The solution. Love. The best and most memorable lyric falls on this track, one that resonated with me the moment I heard it. “If love is the answer, you’re home”. This is accompanied by some phenomenal keyboarding and trumpeting. It’s an instrumentally wonderful moment.
I had said earlier that Discovery might not win over all listeners, but Random Access Memories has a better chance of gripping a new listener. Tracks like Get Lucky, Lose Yourself to Dance, and Instant Crush have the draw of multiple genres coming together to make one humongous hit and two pretty sizeable others. Instant Crush was the sleeper hit that I didn’t see coming. Features on a Daft Punk album already seemed like a foreign concept, but they truly came out on top with their choices. Julian Casablancas would later put out his least interesting Strokes album after this, but at least his feature here was pretty dope. I love how disco inspired these three tracks are too. It doesn’t come off as kitschy or cheesy, but more so a testament to how much they love the music they grew up on.
RAM comes off as a victory lap in a way. Even without knowing that this would be their final album at the time they definitely had a lot to say. The duo’s message since the very beginning has always been to spread love and to show your passion. Give Life Back to Music isn’t meant to come off as an insult to modern music, but more of a ‘take back your sound’ and to make it your own. In a time where most mainstream music was kind of bland and dull (with exceptions) Get Lucky served as a breath of fresh air. I still don’t know why this song was such a hit outside of Pharrell being attached to it. The top songs that year were Thrift Shop by Macklemore, We Can’t Stop by Miley Cyrus, and Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke. These all in some way fall under the mainstream criteria in some form. Not to say that Get Lucky is this genre defying anthem, but it totally stands out among these other three.
The last two songs hit hard. Doin’ It Right is all about getting lost in the moment, a euphoric state of mind that needs to be possessed. Drowning in the sound and letting the music guide you is their definition of ‘doin it right’ and it’s totally convincing coming from a spectacular Panda Bear feature. This was actually my introduction to Animal Collective, I thought ‘man this Panda dude has a great voice’.
I could write a whole entry on how perfect Contact is as a closer. It’s not only the perfect finale to a disco and electro-pop rollercoaster, but also to their career as we know it. I revisited this album after news of their breakup and nearly cried. This song instrumentally drives me insane in the best way. The way that the synth-organ steers into these insane drums and bass plays out like a spaceship accident. Like two rockets smashing into each other and this is what it would sound like if you could hear in space. The movie Interstellar hadn’t come out yet, but I always thought that it would fit perfectly in the Hans Zimmer score.
Random Access Memories is a one of a kind album. It broke off from the traditional Daft Punk sound and went in a new direction that I didn’t expect to love as much as I do. Discovery is probably the better album at the end of the day, but the highs on RAM are so high. Some of my all-time favorite songs were introduced here and play to the soundtrack of my early high school years and memorable summer vacations to come. I’ll always remember and cherish the first time I ever heard it. As a kid who only listened to Top 40 and popular alternative, Daft Punk was my introduction to electronic and house music. RAM is an album that really reminds me of my family. We all really enjoy this record and it’s impossible to not think of riding backseat to the waterpark on hot summer days while listening.
Best Tracks: Within, Touch, Giorgio By Moroder, Get Lucky, Instant Crush, Doin’ It Right, Contact