March 29, 2001

Robot Soul

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Back in 1992, the hyper-cool (and now defunct) British dance music magazine Melody Maker derided a single by French DJ duo Thomas Bangalter and Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo as “a bunch of daft punk.” The name stuck, and five years later Daft Punk rocked the techno scene with the house classic Homework. Their long-awaited sophomore release, Discovery, not only revisits the exciting range of styles that made Homework a hit, but surpasses it with a multi-layered club experience that soundly defeats the notion that dance music has no depth or complexity.

Blending organic beats with electronic audio tricks, Discovery draws on contemporary house, funk, disco, gospel, and 80s rock to appeal to a range of musical tastes. But despite its versatility, there’s no doubt where this disc was meant to be heard: on the club dance floor.

Discovery opens up with “One More Time,” a clubber’s anthem that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Already a popular single, the track sports dynamic dancefloor energy and a playful use of vocoder vocals that seamlessly melds the digital and acoustic. The lyrics (“One more time , we’re gonna celebrate/ don’t stop the dancing.”) tell us where the disc is headed.

The house influence pervades other tracks like “High Life” and “Voyager,” but surprising interludes soften the occasionally overbearing techno beats. The standout “Aerodynamic” features a wild Bon Jovi-esque guitar riff, as well as a clever use of a reverberating cathedral bell. A section of the quirky “Digital Love” feels like 80s punk rock with an electronic edge.

The mechanical influence on Discovery cannot be denied. The robotic vocoder vocals might go a bit overboard at times, as many songs sound like they’re sung by the same android sopranos from Styx’s “Mr. Roboto.” The mechanical bent of “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” features a repetitive lyric (“Work it harder/ make it better/ do it faster/ make us stronger”) and a gradual breakdown of the singer’s voice into pure computer-generated gibberish.

In a much more modern use of electronic enhancement, the superb “Superheroes” uses dream-like synths to keep the listener floating above the hard beats. The funky “Crescendolls” features bass deep enough to satisfy any techno junky, with a slice of old school hip hop.

The plethora of styles found on Discovery make it a vibrant, fun sequel to Homework. The songs are short, intense, and full of surprises. The eclectic beats and Daft Punk’s creative use of digital effects bring together sounds you never thought possible. House grooves with a razor sharp mechanical edge, Discovery is just what you’d expect from a couple of French guys with a robot fetish: a whole bunch of daft punk.

Archived article by Zach Vanderkooy