Daft Punk – Discovery

Daft Punk - Discovery (2001)

Daft Punk - Discovery (2001)

My old copy of Daft Punk’s Discovery has been with me for a little more than 10 years now, and every single time I come back to it is not only out of nostalgia, it is still very well ranked in my all-time personal Top 10 albums. How can that be possible? Can a House / Electronic album be something more than just a few upbeat tunes that you forget a few months later and never return to it? Short answer: Yes.

The long answer however involves me giving you a detailed account of how complex and at the same time accessible this album is once you spend a reasonable amount of time with it. Discovery is not an acquired taste though, you will pretty much end up loving it very quickly, but something very particular about it is that you will learn it through different phases. I will not disclose an arbitrary order or number for them because it would be a completely subjective and useless exercise, but eventually you will find out for yourself.

Being an old album chances are that at some point you were exposed to many of the single tracks that came out of it, which are extremely enjoyable by themselves, but is only when you  taste the whole thing that you discover the intricate story and how everything is somehow connected and fits like a puzzle. Actually you might have heard of something called Interstella 5555, an animated movie that happens to be a visual realization of Discovery.

Daft Punk’s signature loops and sampling are all over the place here, and through the years I’ve found several people who dismissed their music on the premise that the electronic genre and specifically Daft Punk music is repetitive, tiresome and monotone. If only they knew what they are missing out… You see, there’s so much more than a looping melody and random pieces of another songs mixed together to make a completely different new song, that’s the beauty of something like this album, and it’s a shame that many people never get to see it. Yes, it’s not a secret that many of the songs featured here are looping sequences, but hey, who said that it can’t be done in style and create something fun and at the same time feel fulfilling?

The album itself is a very entertaining and joyful ride, most of the songs are easy recognizable and are carefully placed. You get most of the highly energetic right at the beginning, it keeps the momentum way past the first 20 minutes, and is actually on those first 20 minutes where you find the most memorable tracks, such as the now classic One More TimeHarder, Better, Faster, Stronger, or the equally energetic and surprisingly powerful Aerodynamic. But the fun isn’t over once you get past that point, it is actually just the beginning for the most surprising part of the album: the stuff you usually never got to listen on the radio.

I have always considered High Life to be the gate for the secret and most exciting part of Discovery. It is mostly a 3 minute loop that no matter how many times you have listened to it before, it never gets old. It gives way to one of the songs that I would classify as part of the soundtrack of my life, Something About Us, it is just beautiful, so honest and so easy to relate to. But if you thought that it couldn’t get any better, Voyager and Veridis Quo take just where the previous left, and they raise the emotional journey even further. Even the less ambitious Short Circuit near the end feels impregnated by the magic that has been built by the momentum, and it fades out in an intriguing way just to let Face To Face seal the deal and round up a magnificent experience, to say the least. I wouldn’t be lying if I say that it almost feels like a religious experience (without the religious stuff, of course).

For some reason, some years ago I had this weird vision of this lonely man-made space probe traveling into distant and unknown worlds (yeah, that vision has something to do with the actual Voyager program of the 1970s if someone was wondering). I don’t know at which point I started thinking that Voyager was actually inspired by the early space exploration achievements. I can’t listen to Voyager (and also Veridis Quo) without having that picture on my mind, and now that I think about it, is not so difficult to imagine, the whole track evokes some out-of-this-world sensation. Just wanted to share this nonsense that has been in my mind for years now.

I can’t pick a single favorite track from this album, because it is so well made and the balance achieved is just genius. I would recommend this album not just for those few who haven’t listened it before (I mean, have they been living under a rock?), I would recommend this as a general culture exercise for everyone. This has to be one of those few albums that you need to listen before you die.

Air – Talkie Walkie

Air - Talkie Walkie (2004)

Air - Talkie Walkie (2004)

Talkie Walkie is a backwards trip for me, as it represents one of the early electronic-influenced albums that I had the chance to get my hands on. To this day I consider Air’s Talkie Walkie, Röyksopp’s The Understanding and Daft Punk’s Discovery to be the culprits (in a good way, of course) of the change in my listening habits towards electronic music, a journey that began about 6 years ago and have brought nothing but incredible and amazing experiences, as well expanding my mind to new and exciting horizons.

I don’t know if this is just me being biased, but every Air album has this inherent frenchness to it, something that I believe can be found on many other french artists work (Lisa Papineau, Shine, just to name a few), but something very particular about Talkie Walkie is that it features a certain amount of japanese inspired moments. Most of it has to do with the fact that Air decided to provide a few tracks to the soundtrack of the movie Lost in Translation, which as many of you may know and without going into much detail, takes place in Japan, but wisely enough, the album isn’t a collection of cheesy japanese sounding tracks just for the sake of an otherwise completely unrelated movie. Just to set the score straight, the songs where you will notice such influence is Cherry Blossom Girl and Alone in Kyoto, and even in the middle of those songs you will realize that it’s just Air being clever, they stayed true to their style while at the same time gave us something to imagine what would be like to have a couple of french musicians doing music inspired in Japan.

Taking a closer look at the album as a whole, I find it to be very well balanced. It has its share of instrumental tracks, as well another good portion of vocalized tracks. Truth to be told, this isn’t the type of album you look for if you want some deep and inspiring lyrics, as Talkie Walkie tends to use lyrics just as one way to adorn the songs, they don’t seem to have a meaning on their own other than fill the gaps in between songs. Of course, this doesn’t prevent us from enjoying songs like Surfin’ On A Rocket, which is quite amusing and is almost like if it forces you to sing to it every time you stumble upon it.

The biggest achievement though, is this kind of trance, this induced mental state that very few artists are capable of. Air’s music is know for being elegant, unafraid of incorporate their many diverse influences and wrap it into this electronic attire that anyone can enjoy. I know it sounds silly (and even elitist), but Air music gives you the impression that you’re actually acquiring better taste in music just for liking it, and I know that it is a dumb statement, but I had that thought a couple of times in the past.

I struggled to come across other bands that could evoke the same set of feelings this album happens to touch, but I have to admit that I came up short. And while Air purists will disregard Talkie Walkie in favor of the mighty Moon Safari, this isn’t by any means an inferior effort. I’ve heard before complains about this being just another cheesy french album, but oh boy, you will be surprised when you realize what is in front of you.

Jaga Jazzist – The Stix

Jaga Jazzist - The Stix (2003)

Jaga Jazzist - The Stix (2003)

I don’t know about you, but whenever I think about jazz, I get this mental image of a couple of older dudes playing some sad tunes in a nearly deserted bar filled with smoke. Now, first of all, I know I watch a little too many movies, since this seems to be a cliche straight out of a bad movie, and second, I know for a fact that it takes more than just a good taste to really appreciate something as sophisticated as a good jazz band.

Why am I bothering with this? Jaga Jazzist is not exactly a jazz band after all. Jaga Jazzist is actually one of the best examples of a relatively recent trend called nu jazz, which of course, as the name implies, has something to do with jazz, but is not exactly jazz in the traditional sense. It differs from conventional in the sense that the force behind this album is not in the mood and atmosphere, but is more song driven, each having its own arguments and strong points, and even more important, the genre allows for a great deal of experimentation between traditional jazz elements with electronic music, creating a whole new concept that not only is surprisingly fresh and innovative, but also provides the best of both worlds… Think of it as a night of heavy drinking without the hangover the next day. How so? Well, you get to experiment the calm and reflexive nature of jazz at the same time that you’re enjoying some fast paced electronic beats. That’s a win/win in my book.

I truly enjoy the fact that Jaga Jazzist tends to thicken their productions, because you see, you would have thought that something that derives from jazz would feature the minimal amount of instruments and you can call it a day, but oh no, this feels more like a thick paste rather than skim milk, just to make a vague analogy. Beware though, this isn’t me saying that this is all facade but with no real substance where it matters, because The Stix has enough elements to stand on its own as a very interesting and somewhat abstract experiment.

The funny thing though is that all this attention to detail and meticulous care when stuffing the sound with a lot of different flavors isn’t what gives this album its more important and distinctive trait. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered the wide array of feelings carried in the same vehicle, as one moment I was witnessing what I thought was the musical representation of an abstract and intense outburst of talent that could very well have been used to cover some canvas with millions of possible combinations of colors and shapes… And the very next minute I was being part of what I can only describe as the most disturbingly beautiful and peaceful combination of mellow and strangely familiar tunes.

The Stix is not all about contrasts, and while it can vary greatly through its 53 minutes of duration, it never falls out of the boundaries of the genre. It is consistent in delivering a concept, rather than an experience to be honest, and it becomes a statement about seeing things from a different perspective, living something through different eyes and finding that moment of awe and amusement while you realize it is happening. Day and Another Day are the most easily recognizable examples of this, the first being easily one of the best tracks of the album, and having one right after the other gives the second a sense of being the reinterpretation, the fruit of the inspiration given by the first one, or just a look at the same concept through different points of view, you decide.

A steady pace, paired with an elegant and very consistent style, adorned with lots of energetic performances… That is The Stix in one phrase. This is the perfect jazz album for those who don’t like jazz.