You better believe it, baby. James Murphy has every reason to be in awe of Daft Punk. They're thinking light years ahead of him. I must admit I was hardly straining to hear this new album, but I had some birthday gift vouchers to spend at Virgin and, after picking-up the brand new Prefuse 73 release, it was a toss-up between this and the latest Out Hud record. No doubt there's somebody out there thinks I made the wrong choice, but I figured that Daft Punk have blown my mind with their last two studio albums, so "Human After All" must be worth a listen, surely? I hadn't heard any tracks from it or read any reviews, other than the generally underwhelmed responses over at the Dissensus thread (and the lack of responses to that thread speaks volumes in itself).
Still, I had some misgivings of my own. For one, how do you follow "Discovery", ferchrisskes? The 'difficult third album' has to sound crap by comparison. A general feeling that 'the French thing' had run it's course (I was less than impressed by Air's new offering last year, plus I'm all lost inna Dubstep these days). Then there was the still remaining sense of 'sell-out' after all those TV adverts and so forth. But I went for it anyway, and thank the Lord I did, cos it's fuckin' great.
What we have here is ten tracks, recorded between 13th September to 9 November 2004 ( a mere 40 days), clocking-in at the bare-minimum 45 minutes which on the face of it might lead one to come to the conclusion that this is indeed a "horrible 'can't be arsed', contractually obliged rush job". But I prefer the view that Daft Punk have made a deliberately raw Rock'n'Roll record. Or should I say 'Rock' record, because that's what I'm hearing in all those grinding riffs and yes, Daft Punk play lots of guitars on this album. Now, I'm the last person you'd expect to talk about that in positive terms, but as with everything these guys touch, guitars in the hands of Daft Punk sound like the freshest, most exciting instruments on the planet; digitally warped into new realms of extremity. I get the feeling that the guitars were used simply as an interface between man and machines - you get the sensation of guitar performance but without any of the usual sonic references (with the notable exception of the single "Robot Rock" which revels in full-on Sabbath-style rifferama). It makes me laugh when I hear people talking about how clever The Darkness are by exhuming Rock's cliches and being all bloody ironic and post-modernist. Fuck that, The Darkness are shit and hopefully everybody realises that by now. Daft Punk are so post-modern that they come out the other side and just sound totally, undeniably Modern.
This is a raw, primitive record, constructed from the barest of ingredients, but still there's that super-compressed sound - which you either love or hate - that just bursts through the speakers as though there's not enough room in the frequency range to contain it all. I always assumed that Daft Punk's sound was the result of expensive studio gadgetry and a host of expert engineers (as on My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless") but reading through an article in this month's Mixmag I was confronted by a very different reality. Although Messrs. Bangalter Christo declined to be interviewed, several of their friends and associates were more than happy to talk about them. I was particular struck by Armand Van Heldon's comment: "I'd always ask them how they got their sound and the quality of their mix-downs. They told me - and I don't know if they were fucking with me because it's a competitive thing - but they said they mix down through a fuckin' cassette box. " This is confirmed by Dave Guetta who says, "Like a lot of producers I thought 'they must have a fantastic studio'...(but) when I went round there it was so depressing: they had nothing except two 8-track mixers. I couldn't believe it. The monitor speaker was a ghetto blaster". I love the idea that DP's shiny ultra-modern sound is the result of such a lo-tech methodology - the record company must love these guys cos they're getting the hits without any expensive recording costs!
Another interesting point I picked-up on came from a guy called Branco Mazzalai, who was a member of Darlin', the dodgy indie band that Daft Punk once were. Mazzalai mentions that they were influenced by '80s drone-rockers Spacemen 3, and I can see how that influence is still coming through now in the colossal emphasis on repetition that dominates this album. I think that sense of perpetual motion was always there, but with the focus now on more Rockist structures it becomes more apparent. There's a sense of losing one's self in the riff that connects with Spacemen 3's own mind-wiping cyclic intensity (if you think about it really hard), perhaps most overtly suggested on "The Brainwasher".
But it's the gorgeous "Make Love" that really gets me. This is the track mid-way through where they tone-down the rock dynamics, creating the music with just a hissy old analogue beatbox, bass guitar, piano and a distant, poignant vocal refrain. I'd like to think that this track was recorded totally live, as it reminds me of the simple yet effecting work of 70's Electro-Krauts Cluster, who would create lovely pastoral electronica by live interaction. Eno explained it best when talking about his time with them, "it always started out like people would jam today against a sequencer, though we weren't using sequencers then; somebody would become a sort of human sequencer....my problem with people jamming was that they would always change to quickly, they'd never listen to where they were. With Cluster, we would stay in the same place for 25 minutes or so, really getting into the details of the piece, start to feel it as a landscape, not just a moment in the music, but as a place. Also, the fact that you're playing repetitively is really different from just playing a loop; because when you're playing it, you start to get this unity between a muscular rhythm and a perceptual thing that's going on, so you almost forget you're doing it - the playing experience becomes a state you're in". That's essentially what I get from "Make Love" - a sense of total immersion within a meditative state of playing the same thing over and over again.
Then there's the closing number "Emotion" which, with it's nagging four-chord organ melody and crushing/uplifting monotony makes me think of Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream". The more I listen to this record the more I start to believe that this is actually DF's finest offering so far. I can't think of any other act who could have made this approach work so successfully. You think you can live without another Daft Punk album? Don't be a damn fool! Get "Human After All" into your life right now !!