"So our new album is supposed to really suck," Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, one half of the robotic French music duo, told GQ's Zach Baron in a feature for the magazine's May issue. This came after his other DJ half, Thomas Bangalter, tried in the same interview to set your expectations as low as possible for your first (legal) listen to the album, which comes out May 21:
"In Scream 2, they have this discussion about how sequels always suck," Bangalter says. In this scheme, Random Access Memories might as well be Scream 4. "The thing we can ask ourselves at some point is like: We're making music for twenty years. How many bands and acts do you have that are still making good music after twenty years? It always sucks—almost always, you know?"
Daft Punk's debut album, Homework, came out in 1997, but the group had a few successful singles before that. Random Access Memories is only their fourth major album together, excluding the score they did for Tron, and so it's their first real record in eight years. To call it the most anticipated album of the year — period — won't draw many counter arguments. The reason they're trying to downplay expectations so much is, well, it's because the new album doesn't sound like the Daft Punk everyone still thought they knew — or at least still knew they loved — during all those long years in waiting.
No, the duo has moved away from that sound altogether, almost. Baron sums it up nicely in one of the best lines of his GQ piece: "It's a big and lush and opulent '70s-disco record, glamorous in places and almost mournful in others, like something a heartbroken vacuum cleaner might drive around to at night in Detroit." The change of direction is deliberate. With the explosion and bro-ification of electronic dance music — or EDM for short — there's no shortage of music that sounds like Daft Punk. So why, then, would Daft Punk come out after eight years to make a record that sounds like Daft Punk? "It's always this thing where we're constantly waiting for something that will come in electronic music that says, 'Daft Punk sucks!'" Bangalter tells Baron. That's why the duo made a light, poppy '70s disco record, evidence of which can be found on the brilliant and inescapable new single, "Get Lucky," with Pharrell, instead of the churning electro-wubs of previous efforts. Bangalter elaborates: "It's maybe not 'Kill the father'... but it's like: Things have to move on."
Daft Punk's problem with modern EDM is fairly simple: it's boring and derivative. They told Billboard's Kerri Mason about their complaints with the genre, detailed in outtakes released today. The band tried to make a new album using only computers before discovering they hated it. (Instead, they enlisted a who's-who of session musicians and collaborators, about whom you can learn a lot more over at Vice's Creators Project.) Daft Punk's problem with modern EDM, ultimately, rests in the constraints producers are putting on themselves by limiting their instrument to a laptop: "I think it’s mostly the tools; I think they might be missing the tools," Bengalter told Mason.
The problem with the way to make music today, these are turnkey systems; they come with preset banks and sounds... They’re making it as if it’s somehow easier to make the same music you hear on the radio. Then it creates a very vicious cycle: How can you challenge that when the system and the media are not challenging it in the first place? We really felt that the computers are not really music instruments, and we were not able to express ourselves using a laptop. We tried, but were not successful.
In other words: the only way to revive Daft Punk was to kill it. Viva Daft Punk.