Many Daft Punk fans’ hearts broke at the release of their 2021 farewell music video. Their “Epilogue” shows Thomas Bangalter flip the self-destruct switch on Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s suit before walking solo into the sunset. The tribute closes with the hopeful children’s choir from “Touch”, off of Random Access Memories. The realization that the 2013 album was the band’s final comes as a surprise. Its replayability makes it feel as though Daft Punk had been active for this last decade.
Random Access Memories does not stand alone in Daft Punk’s legacy. Their other definitive album was released at the other end of their career, at the turn of the century. A polished sequel to their debut album, Discovery launched Daft Punk into the mainstream. There is much debate surrounding which of their albums reigns supreme. Let’s try to figure it out.
There are notable differences in the intention of each album. Early in their career, Daft Punk stayed true to their French house roots, producing with the underground scene in mind. Every song off of Discovery could play in a club, but this is not the case for Random Access Memories. Later in their discography, Daft Punk makes a significant shift. They stay true to their 1970s influence but go far more commercial with their features and pop sound. This alone is enough for many die hard fans to choose Discovery as the superior album. However, one should not dismiss Random Access Memories just because “Get Lucky” overshadows the other tracks. Daft Punk achieved a duality in RAM. They topped charts with pop hits while seamlessly blending that same sound with experimental masterpieces.
Discovery is credited with paving the way for electronic music in the 21st century. It has remained just as, if not more relevant, than Random Access Memories despite having been released twelve years prior. The one hour album includes famous tracks such as “One More Time”, “Digital Love”, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”, “Voyager”, and “Veridis Quo”. Notable characteristics include the quick interchanging between low and high fidelity sounds, heavy distortion on vocals, and creative basslines. Discovery is pure fun and carefree, as though Daft Punk had nothing to prove with it. It isn’t cool, or even modern, but otherworldly. Fittingly, the album was released alongside a feature length animation titled Interstella 5555, following the abduction of a galaxy traveling pop band.
Random access memories
Random Access Memories begins with “Give Life Back to Music”, showing listeners exactly what’s in store. The heavy electric guitar and drums backed by synth runs show the more traditional approach to the album, but the entrance of the familiar robotic vocals lends a touch of nostalgia. Most songs on the album include a traditional rock ensemble of lead guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard, with Daft Punk’s electronic expertise mixed in. This combination yields 1970s inspired funk with a modern electronic twist. RAM also includes seven featured artists – a jump for the duo, who had never featured any in the past. The features include the father of disco and EDM Giorgio Moroder, The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas, producer/singer Pharrell Williams, and several more. RAM also includes one of the most impressive runs in Daft Punk’s discography. Tracks five through eight include “Instant Crush”, “Lose Yourself to Dance”, “Touch”, and “Get Lucky”. This run boasts incredible range, going from a heartbreaking love song, to iconic dance music, an innovative rhapsody, and a chart topping pop classic.
It is difficult to pick a superior entity from two camps of such impressive innovation. On the one hand, Discovery paved the way for electronic music to follow, while RAM bridged the gap between artistic and mainstream commercial success. If I could listen to one for the rest of my life, I would have to choose Random Access Memories. While I love and listen to more songs off of Discovery, “Instant Crush”, “Lose Yourself to Dance”, and “Touch” rank too highly on my list to let go. I make this decision knowing RAM could never exist without Discovery, as the latter redefined the genre in which the former belongs.