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Top 20 Albums of 2013

Top 20 Albums of 2013

daft-punk

1. Daft Punk
Random Access Memories
[Columbia]

Like the legend of the phoenix, Daft Punk has broken out of the “robot/not-human” rut, emerging from an eight-year fallow period (not counting a score and a live record) to create Random Access Memories, an album unlike anything in the band’s history. Only the band’s fourth proper studio album, RAM finds Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo ditching all of the trappings of EDM that defined their first three records and turning to sounds that clogged the airwaves in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, namely disco and AM-lite sounds. But RAM isn’t a simple homage record, but an amalgamation of the sounds of the past with the sounds of the future.

daft-punk-random-access1In an age where the death of the album has been (falsely) lamented ad nauseum, Daft Punk has presented us with a complete work meant to be listened to from beginning to end, a funky journey that sounds like an update of the who’s-who, star-studded Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Just look at the title of the first track: “Give Life Back to Music.” It’s a manifesto, a throw down, a challenge. And on RAM, our choice for Album of the Year, Daft Punk more than lives up to that declaration.

Daft Punk didn’t pull it off alone as the duo brought in talent both modern and from the period to which they pay tribute. Disco legends Niles Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder are on-hand to add legitimacy while Panda Bear, Julian Casablancas and Pharrell Williams ground the album in the year 2013. And while some songs such as “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance” grab you with immediacy, slower songs “The Game of Love” and “Instant Crush” are more insidious in their aural takeover. Meanwhile, “Giorgio by Moroder” (where the disco legend narrates his life story) is an instantaneous stunner, a sonic odyssey that veers from icy synth minimalism to crashing symphonic swoop.

RAM doesn’t frontload all the best songs (“Get Lucky” doesn’t even show up to its back half), and its centerpiece “Touch” is a show tune slow song featuring disco king Paul Williams. It treads a fine between the maudlin and the sentimental, but it still packs an emotional wallop, even in cheese-stick sentiment “love is the answer.” It is the epitome of lush on an album that treads in the unabashed stickiness of the late ‘70s. Daft Punk has always been image-conscious and by rightly hitching their wagon to the uncool (much like Dan Bejar did on Kaputt), Bangalter and de Homem-Christo are birthing the new paradigm of cool.

The album ends on the swelling “Contact,” a song that just builds and builds. Like that rising mythological bird, Daft Punk has launched into the stratosphere with RAM and it’s impossible to imagine them rocketing up any higher. – David Harris

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