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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The Greatest Electronic Album Ever Made: Homework – Daft Punk Part 4 of 4

This is the final installment in our 4-part review of Daft Punk’s “Homework”.  Be sure to check out Parts 1, 2, and 3 as well!

SIDE D:

13.  Burnin’ – The final side of the album opens with one of Daft Punk’s most frequently overlooked masterpieces.  “Burnin'” is one of those tracks that truly defines DP’s ability to make you listen to try and figure out what exactly these guys were thinking when they literally whipped this one up, all while grooving your butt off.  Whooshing fire truck sirens, alarm bells, and a filtered subtractive synth line all build to a climax before one of the most defining basslines ever heard in house music drops and sends the track into sheer pandemonium.  The drum programming is simply brilliant here, with the lads tapping out what sounds like “Dueling Banjos” for percussion on their drum machines (including some cheeky, slightly out-of-place tom sounds just for fun).  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this tune absolutely destroy in the clubs and based on the response DP received when they added it to the slightly revamped Alive 2007 set list, this one will continue to endure as a fan favourite.

14.  Indo Silver Club– One word:  MADNESS.  This is Daft Punk at their absolute nuttiest; here they grab a snippet of “Hot Shot” by Karen Young (the only credited sample on the album) and set a bendy bassline to auto-insanity and let ‘er rip.  This is an extremely cool track, one that takes a sample so far out of its original context it’s ridiculous and the result is a great late night tune that served as the duos second Soma single, released simply as “Indo Silver Club“.  The single contained “Part 1”, a heavier, rolling, clanky techno cut, and “Part 2″ which appears on the album.  The 12” (of which I have a copy, tee-hee) is one of the tougher DP releases to track down, but well worth it if you’re a diehard fan.

15.  Alive – Many people are surprised to learn that “Da Funk” was not the first single released from Daft Punk.  In 1994, the duo released their debut E.P. on Soma and UMM Records entitled “The New Wave“, containing two versions of the title track, an early techno number, “Assault”, and what appeared on the single as “Alive(New Wave Final Mix)”.  It is this version that is presented on “Homework” and if you listen to the original arrangement of “The New Wave”, the similarities are present, but not quite as polished as the “Final” product.

Let’s not mince words; “Alive” is a monster of a track.  The final mix is slower in tempo and it starts off heavy with some kicks put through a nice doubling reverb and a single-note bassline.  The effects and synth hooks follow with everything building towards a huge climax before kicking in even harder.  It’s perfect 1996 rave music and shows a marked improvement in terms of arrangement over “The New Wave”, which seems to rely a bit too heavily on its faster tempo and somewhat scattered sounding sequencing and engineering.  “Alive” has endured as a consistent fan favourite, included in both their Alive ’97 and Alive 2006/2007 live shows and lending its name to the tours themselves.  The main thing is it sounds fantastic in a club, even better when the boys tear it apart and put it back together, and is the perfect tune to close an amazing debut album from two unassuming kids from France who banged out a masterpiece in one of their bedrooms and changed the course of house music forever.  Right?

16.  Funk Ad –…..Well, kinda.  Let’s face it, from day one Daft Punk has always approached everything they do with slightly cheeky humour.  The masks, the dog in the video for “Da Funk”, not appearing in their videos themselves (at least not until the release of “Human After All“), you get the idea.  Many will argue for and against the merits of closing such a fantastic debut with a 50-second snippet of “Da Funk” played backwards, but who cares what the real reason behind it is.  Maybe it’s a joke, a DJ tool, a subliminal hook that helps ingrain the album into the fabric of your brain (surely I can’t be the only person this has happened to), or just something more to add to an album that was longer than just about any album released during this time period(73:53).  At this point, after listening to the sheer brilliance of the 15 tracks that preceded it, you would almost come to expect something like this from the guys who knocked out “Rollin’ & Scratchin'”, “Oh Yeah”, etc.

CONCLUSION

“Stands the test of time” is an accolade that’s been misused to the point of being mostly meaningless these days.  “Homework”  is a record that accomplished much more than that, but if we choose to focus on the music alone for a minute, there is a definite timelessness to the album that can be observed simply by looking at how well the tracks hold up to this day in 2012.  Seriously, put on “Around the World” and then show me a current “hot” single or song that is anywhere near as funky as this.  Skrillex‘s “Bangarang” is a decent tune, but if “Da Funk” didn’t exist who’s to say it would either?  If you’re a house DJ and you’re gigging this weekend, pull out “Burnin'” and just watch what happens.  Maybe you’ll thank me on Monday.  The quality of every track on here is light years ahead of where the curve was in 1996 and, quite frankly, where it is today.

One of the reasons why the album has endured and received further acclaim in the years after its release may well be because it was, in fact, too far ahead of its time for most people.  Thomas & Guy-Man introduced a novel approach to making electronic music without deviating too far away from the pop sensibilities that made their tracks instant classics.  Remember too, this was an LP designed with the DJ in mind.  This may have worked a little too well, since Virgin even had difficulties in deciding how best to market the album since DJs of various genres were playing every single track out!  The arrangement of the tracks themselves are very DJ-friendly, consisting of full versions instead of radio edits.  Hmmm…the easier it is to mix and play out the tracks, the more people will play them!  No wonder everybody was on Daft Punk in some form when this album dropped.

At the end of the day, the main reason I selected this recording as the Greatest Electronic Album Ever Made is simply because it is one of the few albums of any genre that I can actually listen to all the way through and it is still a pleasure to do so.  It grabbed me by the ears and soul and hasn’t let go since.  Daft Punk simply made people sit up and say “woah….what is this???”  It broke away from the Eurodance sound that was dominating the genre at the time and made people realize that with a little imagination, some half-decent gear and respect for house music’s founding fathers, you can actually do this yourselves.  This record has influenced everything from my DJ sets to how I approach making my own tunes and has most definitely become one of my “deserted island” records.  I haven’t stopped playing this since I got it and have no plans to stop any time soon.

No album is perfect, but for me, this one definitely comes close.  If you want to hear how half a dozen different house sounds and styles got started, do a little Homework and give this one your attention.

Da funk back to da punk, come on!