Ever since dance and electronica fans got a taste of “Da Funk,” the first single from Daft Punk’s 1997 debut, “Homework,” the band has been on a hot streak.
Part of it might be the intrigue created by band members Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo as they keep their faces hidden behind chrome-plated robot masks when they perform.
The band’s music is the real draw, though, and on its latest release, “Random Access Memories,” Daft Punk once again deliver an album packed with high-energy electronic dance music.
Owing just as much to electronic pioneers such as Kraftwerk as it does to disco legends such as Walter Murphy, “Random Access Memories” kicks off with the lively “Give Life Back to Music,” which fully demonstrates why Daft Punk remains at the top of the dance music heap.
“Instant Crush,” which features Julian Casablancas from The Strokes, is a beautifully subdued piece of music, and the digital effect put on Casablancas’ vocals actually works here.
“Get Lucky,” which features Pharrell Williams on vocals, is the album’s best offering, and the bouncy disco track will certainly be one of the summer’s biggest singles.
Other guests on the album include Paul Williams, Panda Bear and Todd Edwards.
The only real stumbling point on the album comes with its longest track, “Giorgio by Moroder,” which is a tribute of sorts to Italian dance music artist Giorgio Moroder. The song is way too long and takes too long to get started.
Aside from that one misstep, though, it appears that Daft Punk can chalk up another successful release in a musical genre that is known for the brevity of its artists.
Key Tracks: “Give Life Back to Music,” “Instant Crush,” “Get Lucky”
The first time I heard the song “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” from Vampire Weekend’s 2008 self-titled debut, I marveled at the beautiful blending of Paul Simon’s “Graceland”-era world music sound with the genre hopping excitement of early Talking Heads.
Vampire Weekend was able to grow musically and yet still retain that basic idea on its followup, 2010’s “Contra.”
On the band’s latest album, “Modern Vampires of the City,” there is less of a world beat sound and more of an indie rock vibe.
On the track “Unbelievers,” singer Ezra Koenig sounds more like Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody than Talking Heads’ David Byrne.
While the hard right musically is a bit jarring for folks who may have become used to Vampire Weekend’s output thus far, in truth, the band still sounds good, just different.
The album’s leadoff track, “Obvious Bicycle,” beautifully showcases Koenig’s amazing vocals in a manner you might expect more from a band like Arcade Fire.
On “Diane Young,” the band uses studio trickery to distort and manipulate Koenig’s voice, with mixed results.
“Ya Hey” brings to mind Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia,” complete with its primitive sounding percussion.
There have been other bands that have released albums early in their careers that basically told the world, “Yeah, we used to sound like that, but now we sound like this.” Radiohead’s “OK Computer” and Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique” are two examples that spring immediately to mind. On “Modern Vampires of the City,” Vampire Weekend has done the same thing. Those that choose to continue following this new sound will still be rewarded with some great music.
Key Tracks: “Obvious Bicycle,” “Unbelievers,” “Ya Hey”
Man, has it really been a quarter-century since R.E.M. released “Green”?
That album marked some pretty big milestones for the Athens, Ga., band.
After hitting it big with “Document” the previous year, the band jumped from indie label I.R.S. to Warner Bros. Records. While many fans feared that the move to a major label would result in a watered-down sound, “Green” instead found the band becoming even more political and experimental.
Songs such as “Orange Crush,” “Stand” and “Pop Song 89” showed that the band was ready to continue growing musically.
While most R.E.M. fans already own this album, there is one extra-special reason for dropping the cash to purchase this anniversary edition. The release of “Green” was followed by a world tour that lasted nearly a year, which truly made R.E.M. a world-class music act.
At a stop in Greensboro, N.C., near the end of the tour, the band turned in a particularly great set. Long circulated as a bootleg recording, the entire Greensboro show is included in the 25th anniversary edition.
Almost the whole “Green” album is performed, as well as R.E.M. classics including “The One I Love” and “Fall on Me.” The band also tried out a couple of songs, “Belong” and “Low,” that would appear on R.E.M.’s next album, “Out of Time.”
It’s an amazing performance by a band at its creative zenith, and the live concert recording more than justifies buying this great album a second time (or even a third time if you’re like me and bought it on cassette back in the day).
Key Tracks: The entire bonus disc with the Greensboro concert.
By Devin Grant