Friday, July 26, 2013

Daft Punk, "Random Access Memories"; The National, "Trouble Will Find Me"

Maybe Daft Punk will start releasing new albums more than once every eight years and eventually build up a real catalog.  Regardless of how long it takes, eventually they will build up a deeper and more varied catalog and it will become increasingly harder for people to keep putting their first two wildly overrated albums on their undeserved pedestals.  They would disappear for years at a time and their fans dissected their only two albums without end on countless message boards and blogs, entrenching the Daft Punk canon into a feedback loop that it hasn't been able to escape to this day because there hasn't been enough new material to freshen up the discussion.

The best two Daft Punk albums are the most recent two.  This shouldn't even be a debate.  The first two are radio friendly techno pop made by anonymous robots.  It's been done to death.   Then you have "Human After All", a coarse and brutal slab of minimal dance funk, recorded cheaply and absurdly quickly, packed with loops and shrill squawks, and a supporting tour that literally revolutionized the industry and helped pave the way for EDM's commercial breakthrough in the US.  And now we have "Random Access Memories", a full on disco revival album right down to the live instrumentation and collaborations with a impressive list of disco pioneers and contemporary vocalists.  "Get Lucky" is far and away their finest ever single and in twenty years people will talking about how Daft Punk finally had the breakthrough anthemic disco megahit that their hardcore fans had always wanted them to have.  They won't be talking about how they always get a tear in their eye when they hear "Digital Love".


Every year I seem to get way into a new album by a much admired indie rock band that I'd never paid any attention to in the past (see: YYY's, Beach House).  I can't really explain why this has been happening, any more than I can explain exactly what touched a nerve inside me that morning when I heard a song from "Trouble Will Find Me" on the radio one morning and decided to give the whole album a chance.  Maybe it's related to those 2000-1 years when I got really into Travis for a while, which I attributed to an unconscious backlash against all the wordless techno and "difficult" experimental music I was listening to.  Sometimes you need a break from that stuff and need to listen to simpler, gentler rock songs that you can sing along to.

The National chose that name because it sounds anonymous and nondescript.  Like their name, "Trouble Will Find Me" is difficult to pin down or define.  In a way this could be any one of a million mopey indie bands.   Their obvious influences (Nick Cave, Joy Division, Leonard Cohen) have influenced so many bands that the comparisons don't really help to describe what they sound like.  I could add a couple of more, but I'm not sure it helps.

1) Smashing Pumpkins ballads from "Mellon Collie ..." and "Adore".  In particular, "I Need My Girl" would have been at home on "Adore", and the whole album kind of gives me a "thirteen more fully fleshed out versions of 'Blank Page'" vibe.

2) Drunken Arab Strap ballads, especially "Pink Rabbits".  Like the best of Arab Strap, "Trouble Will Fine Me" is melancholy, but not particularly sad, you can wallow in it but it doesn't really bring you down.  It's not like the best Smiths lyrics, where almost anyone who was once a teenage can relate, rather, it's something you observe from afar, ultimately feeling uplifted and thankful that these things aren't happening to you. Lines like "You didn't see me I was falling apart/I was a television version of a person with a broken heart" are devastating though.

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