Daft Punk is very nerdy. And they’re unashamed. They’re music nerds and it is apparent in their music. Just listen to the song “Teachers” from their debut album. It’s literally a song naming every musician they’ve been influenced by. This aspect of their music has always appealed to me because I’m also a huge music nerd (point in case, the reason I found out about that song is because they named one of my musical idols, Brian Wilson at around the 28 second mark).
What’s more interesting to note is how Daft Punk approaches their own music in a highly intellectual way despite the fact that the genre of music they produce is largely considered to be anything but. Dance music is made for nothing but dance and commercial viability. But somehow, Daft Punk has found a way to consistently produce inventive and musical dance music that is still very much dance-able and sell-able.
After a bit of a commercial absence (aside from their score to the Tron movie, they hadn’t released an album of new material since 2005), they return to musical world that is far different from the one they set on fire with 2001’s Discovery. Their mix of Euro-house and synthpop has now become the pop music norm, with very few exceptions. As much as I loved Discovery when it came out, I found dance to be tiring as of late. Which is partly why I found Justin Timberlake’s latest album so refreshing.
So in the midst of all the electronic music noise being made in the pop scene (try to listen to will.i.am’s latest work and you’ll see what I’m saying) I wasn’t sure where Daft Punk could take their music. Then the co-Visionary played their lead single “Get Lucky” for me. Whoa!
“Get Lucky”, like the rest of their new album Random Access Memories is all about making old and retro sound new. And it works. Joe, the co-Visionary lamented to me how music today is lacking in life - it’s all machines. I agreed. Part of the reason why is that it’s simply cheaper for a major label to employ one or two guys to press buttons on a keyboard for a smash hit, than it would be to employ the full fledged orchestra that would be necessary to fill out the sounds of their songs on our super high quality speakers and headphones.
No matter, Daft Punk found ways to marry acoustic and the natural imperfect sounds of live instrumentation with their tried and true brand of digital sounds to create an album of dance tracks that breathes and is fresh.
“Giorgio by Moroder” is a lesson in musical history about a guy you probably don’t know but has influenced music in a greater way than you can imagine. It’s also the first of two epics that only Daft Punk could pull off without sounding boring or pretentious. The second would be “Touch” that is an absolute masterpiece, though a bit hard to sit through. Songs like those are anything but accessible, at least not in the instantaneous way that past hits like “One More Time” are, but are equally rewarding if you spend time on them.
We all know about “Get Lucky” but I think the best track of the album as of right now is “Doin’ It Right”. Featuring the vocals of Panda Bear (who sounds a lot like a young Brian Wilson), it is simple and effective - more of a throwback for Daft Punk. Like its title, this song is a example of how a song, or any work, can be incredibly simple, but if it’s done right, it will be extremely effective.
There are a few moments where the album lapses into near contemporary jazz levels of dullness - which is an inherent risk when you mix acoustic sounds into an arrangement of digital sounds. “Fragments of Time” thus far sounds better suited for an elevator than for a Daft Punk album. That doesn’t make it a bad song, it’s just not as exciting as the other tracks.
Last week, I listened to snippets of will.i.am’s last album and I heard Justin Bieber rant during the Billboard Music Awards about how he wanted to respected as an artist because of “the craft” that he “makes”. I almost gave up on modern music. So thank you, Daft Punk, for saving the day again.
Justin J. Milliner
Until you come back to me, that’s what I’m going to do.
Despite the song’s popularity as sung by Aretha Franklin and others, many people do not realize it was initially recorded and written in part by a young Stevie Wonder.
Initially used by Motown as a gimmick - modeled after the also blind black performer Ray Charles - the incredible musical talent that Stevie Wonder was grew into one of the fathers of modern American pop music.
Here he is in a period in between his early Lil Stevie days and the adult Wonder in the 70s that became an icon. The maturity and creativity in which he approached this relatively simply song vocally serves as a hint for what was to come.
His vocal stylings inspired and led to the likes of Michael Jackson and eventually the contemporary stars like Justin Timberlake. This song and others from this era represent to me the bridge between Frank Sinatra and contemporary male pop singing.
In the mid-1950s, Duke Ellington was losing. Once the bandleader of a cutting edge and extraordinarily popular jazz orchestra, Ellington was barely able to land gigs. Jazz began to move in the direction of bebop and smaller ensembles. Popular music shifted away from swing and toward rock. Ellington, despite his musical genius, was old hat.
Then came the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956.
At the start of this track, the audience was bored and people were heading for the exits. By the end of it, they were nearly rioting - as evidenced by the audio on this live recording.
In a moment of genius and magic, Ellington called up two charts, “Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue” - two songs that was toward the end of their playing repertoire. The song, as rehearsed most recently, segued into each other with a long tenor sax interlude played by Paul Gonsalves.
The energy of the group was evident and Paul Gonsalves’ solo was otherwordly - lasting 27 choruses!
This is one of the most important moments in American music history. It led to a resurgence in the career of Duke Ellington as well as supplied a blueprint for the large scale music festival. The latter resulted in Woodstock.
This is funky.
Bill Withers today is viewed as no more than supermarket music; his more commercial tracks like “Lean on Me” and “Just the Two of Us” getting played to no end.
But make no mistake - Bill Withers was a funky soul brother. This is a more popular example of an early 70s Bill Withers playing that funky stuff I like.
Fairly early on in the inaugural episode of the sixth season of Mad Men, we learn that Roger’s existential crisis has worsened. He and his new sideburns as his shrink, “What does it all mean?” A few days after first watching that episode, I’m asking myself the same question.
The beauty and uniqueness of this show lies in its ability to weave together the lives of very different people in a sensible and coherent manner, all while telling a compelling story that demonstrates an overall theme. That’s quite a feat, right? Almost Shakespearean.
Think of it: they are able to come up with a theme for a season, whittle it down to sub-themes that govern each episode, all while telling a believable story that sees characters evolve in logical and natural ways. When viewers watch Mad Men, they aren’t just looking to see what happened to this or that character - they look to see how the story will progress. And, ultimately, they look to find out what it all means.
So what have we here with this new season?
As much as things have changed, many things have stayed the same. Disturbingly so. Annoyingly so. One of the major plot points of the past two seasons was the stability of the new ad agency, spearheaded by Don Draper. That storyline is resolved - the agency is clearly in the black, as they’ve added a second floor and a new account manager. There isn’t really anywhere for the agency to go now - at least nowhere that would build tension.
What about Don? Oh, right, Don. Well, he’s miserable again. His marital bliss with Megan was short lived. The show opens with him reading from Dante’s “Interno” on an beach in an obscenely bright looking Hawaii. While Hawaii is usually a very pleasant location, Don broods the entire time. Backing up a step, the first image of the show is from the point of view of a man losing his life which transitions to Don on the overlit beach. Is he in heaven or hell?
There’s no doubting where Megan is. She’s unaware of her husband’s frame of mind. She tans, dances, signs autographs and scores pot, while her husband chain smokes and smiles through clenched teeth. Where is Don’s mind? Why can’t he sleep? The behavior he demonstrates here is quite reminiscent of the behavior that led his first wife to the brink of a nervous breakdown. But again, Megan seems clueless - still perfectly content in her own bubble of marital bliss. How’s your wife, Don? “Long ago and far away.”
Despite Don’s indifference to the atmosphere in Hawaii, he later gushes about it to the folks at Sheridan that sent him down there. He claims that it was an “experience” - not a vacation. Despite his insistence that he enjoyed himself, the gloomy ad campaign he creates suggests otherwise.
Where’s Don headed? Not back to his wife, we learn. He’s unhappy, but now we’ve no idea why. The wife he always wanted turned out to be the wife he always feared he’d have - a success on her own. We understand that he resents that his wife isn’t entirely his all the time - but what’s his problem with it? Why does it trouble him to the point of depression and infidelity? I hope that the season further explores his psyche in this department - otherwise Don Draper will go from being enigmatic to downright inaccessible.
The unsung hero of the series is John Slattery’s Roger Sterling. At one moment, he’s a smart talking playboy, the next a petulant child running upstairs and slamming the door to his room. He’s able to make this switches well within the confines of his character. I suspect his character will earn a little more of the spotlight this go around, with Lane out of the way.
The other characters, like Joan and Pete, were very quiet - if not absent altogether. Choices I don’t quite agree with considering it meant additional screen time for Betty and Peggy who I think are useless at this point. While it would pain me (and the show) to completely drop Peggy and Betty - I just don’t see what purpose they can serve as separate entities. It was almost like they shoehorned a Mad Men spinoff into the show.
I found Peggy to be very pleasant, serving as a bit of relief from the heavier main storyline, though still unnecessary while Betty’s involvement was simply perplexing. One of her first exchanges in the season was extremely uncomfortable. She was strangely sympathetic to one of Sally’s friends, with her story centering on that relationship. The inclusion of this plot leads to the question of whether or not it was Matthew Weiner’s way of making her more likable. Last season she went from being frosty and resentful to downright insufferable. Was Weiner admitting a mistake?
The more important question is perhaps whether or not the amount of issues tackled in this premier was a mistake. The show felt uncharacteristically jumbled and bloated. The usually laser sharp program felt unfocused. For the first time, instead of marveling at it, I was left asking “what does it all mean?”
Written by Justin J. Milliner, who is intrigued.
I don’t know what I like more - the song, or seeing the record play.
Hey, here’s a fun fact that I’ll probably get wrong: records are the highest quality physical recording possible. The problem is that it degrades quickly, and we have yet to develop technology that can adequately reproduce the sound imprinted onto the vinyl.
Anyway - this is Artie Shaw and his Orchestra performing one of their more well-known tunes “Nightmare.” Haunting, isn’t it? And kind of reminiscent of the James Bond theme. But haunting.