15 years of Discovery

15 years ago this weekend, Daft Punk released their 2nd full-length studio album Discovery on the world and the world has never really been the same since, the dance music world anyway.

After transforming dance/house/electronic music as we know it with their landmark debut LP Homework, many fans were expecting a sequel of sorts for their sophomore release.  When the first single “One More Time” was released approximately three months before the album, it became one of the most instantly polarizing records in dance music history.  Purists were stunned by the duos foray into the world of Auto-Tune and the overall “commercialized” feel of the single.  Others thought the move to be quite brilliant, and look to it as the moment when Daft Punk truly crossed over from an underground house act to a mainstream phenomenon.  Let’s not forget that this is the record where they introduced us to their now standard robot helmet guises.

With the release of Discovery, fans now had a full-length concept album to embrace, which also served as the soundtrack to the accompanying anime film Interstella 5555:  The 5storu of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem produced by Daft Punk and legendary Japanese animator Leiji Matsumoto.  The duo spent about 2.5 years recording and developing the album and it certainly sounds like it.  To this day, I believe it is the slickest sounding purely electronic album that has ever been produced.  Every note, transition, nuance and sound is EXACTLY where it’s supposed to be with a beautiful sheen that makes the metallic font used for the album cover ever more appropriate.  Beyond the tracks released as singles, the album has wonderful moments of, yes, DISCOVERY, including “High Life”, one of my favourite DP tunes, “Voyager” and even the tongue-in-cheek 10-minute long closing track “Too Long”.  The list of guest performers is relatively short when compared to those featured on their collaboration-heavy fourth album Random Access Memories, but if that list is comprised of house legends Romanthony, Todd Edwards and DJ Sneak, clearly something is being done correctly.

Sampling made up a huge part of the record and I will not go into what was officially cleared and what was not; you may debate that among yourselves and, if necessary, use that rubbish Discovered bootleg disc which allegedly contains all the samples used.  Half of them are wrong anyway, and include tracks thought to be sampled on Homework and Human After All.  The point is, rather than simply looping samples and adding a beat to it (which they both did to great effect on their Roule and Crydamoure labels and releases), they ADDED and built songs around the samples putting their own brilliant touch to each.  They have stated themselves that this was meant to be a FUN record, paying homage to the sounds and musical styles they most closely identified with in their youth.  Indeed, it is difficult to find a moment on the album that can be described as introspective or deep and that’s fine.  What we have are 14 tunes that blend together to create a timeless listening experience and considering the lasting impact the songs have had, this may very well be the duos most instantly recognizable release.  “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” was employed to great effect in Kanye West’s “Stronger“, 6 years after its original release.  I personally can attest that “One More Time” is my most played Daft Punk song as a DJ.  Countless television and radio programs have used excerpts of the albums tracks as bumper or background music.

I won’t bother with a track-by-track review of this magnificent album.  Instead, check out the video above so you can rediscover the beauty of this important, genre-bending and ultimately satisfying release for yourself.  ONE MORE TIME.

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Classic House Series – Episode #8 – Something Goin’ On – Todd Terry featuring Martha Wash & Jocelyn Brown

The year was 1997.  The sound was house.  The MAN was Todd Terry.

Still riding high off the massive success of his remix of “Missing” by Everything But the Girl, it seemed that the man known as “Todd the God” could do no wrong.  Remixing everyone in sight, he became the go-to guy for a stomping remix of your run of the mill top 40 hit.  Todd’s remixing skills were in constant demand, and more emphasis was being placed on his re-rubs of other peoples music than his own.

No stranger to releasing his own tunes, Todd has been at it since the late 1980’s and developed his own signature sound by fusing the sampling elements of early hip-hop with the groove and soul of house music.  In addition to his huge remix of EBTG, his magnificent re-work of “I’ll House You” – Jungle Brothers remains a seminal release in the world of classic house.

1997 came around and it was time for Todd to re-introduce the masses to his own productions by way of a full-length album “Ready For A New Day“.  His re-make of the Musique classic “Keep On Jumpin’” was still riding high on the playlists of the worlds DJ elite and featured the vocal talents of Jocelyn Brown (who featured on the Musique original) and Martha Wash who had gained fame as a member of the Weather Girls and was perhaps better known to commercial audiences as the then uncredited vocalist for Black Box and C+C Music Factory.

“Something Goin’ On” served as the albums lead single and to this day remains a classic of the soulful house genre.  In the original (labelled as “Tee’s Remix” on the vinyl), Todd brings together his signature “tough” beats with funky guitar licks, piano flourishes and the vocal gymnastics of Wash and Brown to create a powerfully uplifting vocal house anthem.  Throw in the “Preacher” intro from fellow house music veteran Roland Clark and you have the perfect tune to kick off a stomping club set.

The fun didn’t end there.  If you were lucky enough to grab the US vinyl version, you were treated to the moodier but equally bombastic remix from the Rhythm Masters which stripped things down to give the track and even tougher feel, their beat serving as a healthy kick in the arse for those looking for something with a bit more of an underground feel complete with chopped up vocal snippets and a very cool overall vibe to play serve as a great alternative to the original.

Nearly 20 years on, this one still kicks like a mule and is definitely worth pulling out to give your crowd a real workout on the floor.

Eric Prydz – Opus: Album Review

Opus_Eric_Prydz_cover_artwork

There are a few good reasons why I waited to review Eric Prydz‘s debut album nearly 2 weeks after it was released.  For starters, physical copies of this 2-disc set were not available in Canada until February 19, 2016.  Secondly, although I am certainly familiar with all of the previously released singles included here, I did not want to spoil the experience of sitting down and hearing the album in its entirety with a fresh set of ears.  Third, it’s a lot of music and the best part of almost any Eric Prydz production is their uncanny ability to grow on you, stick in your head and stay there to the point that you just might find yourself humming the melody or bassline in the elevator, on the subway or pretty much anywhere you can think of.

I’m very glad I waited.  Prydz is the undisputed master of progressive house, making huge waves since his much praised/ballyhooed 2004 release of “Call On Me” which did quite well commercially and introduced him to the masses worldwide.  Since then, although he has had several crossover hits including “Proper Education” and “Pjanoo”, Prydz has focused on remaining true to himself and developing his Pryda production label and alias together with his harder, more techno-influenced work as Cirez D on his Mouseville imprint.  In doing so, he has satiated the underground collective and managed to maintain credibility through the sheer, undisputed quality of his releases.  In 2015, he rewarded his fans with an unheard of 22 tracks over 3 EPs under his Pryda guise and now he has finally given us a 19-track strong debut album under his given name, which he estimates he has been writing in his head for over 10 years.  That’s 41 tunes over 4 releases, damn near all of them brilliant and with enough quality that you could literally pick any one of them out of a hat and drop them in a DJ set with a guarantee of the dancefloor going insane to his throbbing, melodic, familiar yet intensely original sound.  With over 2 hours of music on this set, some listeners may see it as a bit daunting at first, but the end result is a near-perfect representation of the Eric Prydz sound with nods to his Pryda and Cirez D monikers and as it was mastered at the legendary Exchange in England, the sonic quality is truly second to none.

Disc 1 opens with a pair of arpeggiator-heavy numbers in the form of “Liam” and “Black Dyce”.  While I find these to be far from the best material included here, they do serve as a fine introduction to his musical style and formula.  “Collider” comes next with some rock-influenced drums and his signature bass sounds driving the track.

“Last Dragon” has quickly become my favourite track off the first disc as it raises the energy level and evokes the best of Prydz’s Pryda alias complete with beautiful synth patterns, warm bass and some haunting choir samples which make this very accessible to DJs looking for a track that will function beautifully as a set opener. closer or peaktime belter.  “Moody Mondays”, the first proper vocal cut of the disc, follows with a featured appearance from The Cut(Neil Ormandy) who adds a very David Bowie-esque sound to this album highlight.  “Floj” is up next, another amazing tune that could be right at home under a Pryda release, followed by “Trubble” which showcases a heavier, bass-driven style that wouldn’t be amiss on a Cirez D EP.  Disc 1 is paced rather well and although tracks like “Som Sas”, “Klepht” and “Eclipse” don’t stand out quite as well as some of the others, to hear these 10 tunes together for the first time is immensely satisfying; keeping in mind these are ideas that have been re-worked and tweaked over a near 10-year period.  Prydz is truly a synth master and although some of his sounds do sound like they have been recycled from some of his other productions, all have been tweaked to sound fresh and exciting in the forms they appear in here.

Disc 2 opens with “Sunset at Cafe Mambo”, a neither ambient nor down-tempo track but rather a synth and arpeggio led piece that simply omits Prydz’s signature kick drum/snare combo and serves as a tribute to one of his favourite places to DJ.  Up next is “Breathe” featuring a guest vocal from Pendulum/Knife Party member Rob Swire.  This one bucks the trend of progressive house seen throughout the album and instead is a slightly more downtempo and breakbeat affair that doesn’t stand out as one of the best cuts from the set, but nevertheless provides a bit of a break from the 4/4 beats of Disc 1 and provides some breathing room for the listener before Prydz returns to form with “Generate”.  This one should be familiar to fans as it considerably predated the release of the album and like its sister track “Liberate”, features vocals from Tom Cane.   I too was surprised that these tracks feature a male vocalist as upon first listen, one would almost certainly think these were done by a female.  Nevertheless, these two cuts perfectly sum up the evolution of the Eric Prydz sound:  fantastic progressive house with strong synth leads and vocal hooks that carry the tracks through their breakdowns and subsequent drops.

“Oddity” follows and then we are treated to a re-scoring of a track previously released as a Pryda production, “Mija”.  “Every Day” is another straight-up 4/4 banger which features a vocal interpolation of Mood II Swing’s 2002 release “Everyday” performed by Hal Ritson.  “The Matrix” follows before the 2-disc set reaches its conclusion in the form of the title track “Opus”.

Clocking in at over 9 minutes, “Opus” takes a simple melodic synth progression and sees it build in tempo, complexity and intensity before finally kicking into a 4/4 anthem around the 5-minute mark and peaking before coming right back down to where it started.  It’s definitely one of the best cuts included here and is deserving of not only its name, but status as the title track of the album.  A worthy way to close out this set, it may not be the easiest tune to mix into a DJ set, but it does serve as a signature stamp that Prydz can put on this debut disc and definitely serves its purpose here.

Disc 1 definitely has a less commercial and more underground feel to the structure and sounds of the tracks featured there while Disc 2 re-introduces some of the tunes that have proven to be enormously successful for Prydz and have found their way into the record boxes of countless big-room players around the world.  This provides a nice balance between the two discs and ultimately allows for the material to at once appeal to both the more discerning underground listener and those who like their prog coupled with strong, yet non-alienating vocal hooks.

Production-wise, this is an album that stands out from its more EDM-centred competition and that is where its beauty and value comes shining through.  This is melodic, progressive house at its absolute best; pick nearly any cut from this collection and unleash it on a packed dancefloor and the audience should be all smiles.  Sonically, this album beats the pants off of nearly anything else out there right now and that can be attributed to the time and effort Prydz has clearly spent mastering his production tools and his uncanny knack for creating very simple melodic riffs that ebb and flow, grow and regress and evolve throughout each tracks length and arrangement.  This album comes about as close to perfect as one could hope for, minus a few moments that don’t quite hit the mark, but overall there aren’t many artists out there where damn near every tune they make is quality, instantly playable and instantly recognizable as the work of a true musical genius regardless of genre.  We hope for more great things to come out of Eric Prydz’s studio and mind and based on his track record, we certainly should not be disappointed.

Rating:  ****/5