Everyone has something that takes them back to crucial core memories. Maybe it’s the smell of butter browning as you cook a grilled cheese on the griddle. It could be a familiar face, place or just an article of clothing you dug out from behind your dresser. The feeling of a light, pleasant springtime breeze blowing against you, warming you and your extremities while not overheating you. A song or melody may take you back to a moment you felt something for the first time. These vignettes can act as a time machine, bringing you back to a place where you felt love or a feeling you can’t describe. That’s why French electronic duo Daft Punk’s final album, Random Access Memories, feels like such a perfect name for many, myself included.
I never really thought about the association music has made in my life, but I certainly lived with the consequences. We’ve spent centuries trying to “improve” music through new artists, albums and singles, trying to explain at the moment why every song is everything to someone. Growing up, everyone had their own preferred genre of music. Some friends in high school were obsessed with Kid Cudi and Man on the Moon: The End of Day. My younger brother connected with classic rock and found his identity through it. Likewise for my fiance, who grew up on show tunes and everything trendy.
For me, it was a combination of everything and was a case of someone who dipped their toes in every genre but never firmly built a base camp with one group. That’s why I identified so much with Daft Punk when I first heard Aerodynamic in a Naruto AMV, of all places. Aerodynamic piqued my interest, and I dove headfirst into their discography, discovering the music I identified with the most but wasn’t something that stuck with one form.
Sure, at their apex, Daft Punk is known for electronically-infused house music. But, the deeper you went, the more you heard genres blending together in a way that didn’t seem possible musically. Daft Punk’s work has always stuck with me, and it’s music that, whenever I go back to it, funnily enough, goes hand in hand with revisiting moments in my life. That’s why in 2013, the release of Random Access Memories wasn’t just another album drop for me – it was an event.
It had been eight years since the duo’s last studio album and five since their last live performance. True to form, they never released any music or did any interviews leading up to the reveal. Get Lucky did leak online and, eventually, debuted as the duo’s latest single, which was a collaboration with Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers. It seemed like Daft Punk was heading in the direction of disco, but it was much more than that. It was a time machine, bringing you through so many genres and eras of music. We all listened together. And then we listened again by ourselves. We couldn’t believe what we had heard. It was perfection, a masterpiece no one had experienced before.
A week ago, Random Access Memories turned ten years old, which is hard to believe. It can’t be ten years since I lived alone, interning in rural Indiana in the heart of God’s country, right? There’s no way it’s been ten years since I purchased Random Access Memories on CD at a nearby Wal-Mart since it was the only store within 50 miles to sell it. Of course, I was streaming it on my phone whenever I could, listening to it nearly on repeat. But I wanted to support Daft Punk as a fan, and playing it on CD was also the only way I could listen to it whenever I drove places.
Mind you, those drives would happen a lot since I was going through a breakup and homesick and over five hours from home. Sure, I had a binder full of CDs to help me pass the time on the hebdomadal weekend trips from Indiana to Ohio. But, after I secured Random Access Memories, I listened to it repeatedly to the point where my player ruined the CD, and I had to replace it. But that was fine by me. This album helped me through a hard time and lifted me up when I felt most isolated.
Things opening with Give Life Back to Music is a fitting way to start things off since it’s a table-setter for the entire experience. Daft Punk is boldly telling you that music has become listless and dull, and they were there to revitalize it with a mix of funky flair and a peppering of electronic elegance. But everything then slows down, allowing you to catch your breath in The Game of Love and the subsequent interview with Giorgio Moroder. Things then open back up and nearly melt your face with an arpeggiated synth dream before nestling you into comfort with familiar electronic disco vibes.
That comfort carries you through emotion and heartbreak midway through the album featuring Julian Casablancas, Pharrell Williams and Paul Williams. It’s sobering, and the general heaviness helps you find your center. It also acts as another table-setting moment before Daft Punk takes you through a computerized explosion that makes your heart race as it carries you further and further into orbit. Once you’ve ascended, it’s genuine fun with the groovy jams of Doin’ It Right and the reflective melodies of Fragments of Time.
Things then end with Contact, which actually blew out the speakers in the recording studio, which is a proper closing. It’s akin to a NASA countdown before heading into orbit, even sampling a recording of Eugene Cernan from the Apollo 17 mission before things head into the unknown. Sure, that sentiment can seem scary. But, if you carry love with you, no matter where you go, you’ll find a way to feel at home.
After listening to Random Access Memories, I learned how to truly appreciate music and not just allow it to accompany me through life. It may seem dramatic, but music is there for me when friends and family cannot be. Random Access Memories showed me how music brings you back to different times and how it brings people together. It helps you play back fragments of time, for better or worse, for as long as needed. It reminds us that our memories live forever with us; sometimes, you might need something to help unlock it.
When Daft Punk announced that the duo was breaking up, I felt it on a deeper level – especially when the synthesizer echoed in from Touch accompanied by the haunting vocals singing the bridge. You could hear them, louder than ever, chanting the central theme of Random Access Memories and, frankly, Daft Punk – love is the answer, and you’ve got to hold on. It felt like saying goodbye to an old friend, but all the random memories also came flooding in. One More Time brought me back to my first-ever school dance. Something About Us was on the mixtape for the first girl I truly thought I loved. The Son of Flynn takes me back to the Regal Cinema on Interstate Parkway, where I saw Tron: Legacy with my friend Kendall and his dad, despite a blizzard raging outside.
Daft Punk was not the only group to influence me like this, but they were the first. I learned how music brings people together and brings you back to different times. It’s tragic but somewhat fitting that Random Access Memories was Daft Punk’s final work considering it was also their best. Selfishly, it leaves you wanting more from the group considering how beautifully Random Access Memories has aged. But, with it being their last work together, one that was never performed live outside of taped, pre-staged events, it’s one hell of a note to go out on.
Random Access Memories ruined music for me in the best way possible, and I’m thankful it exists. It’s a fond farewell from two individuals I’ll never personally meet but helped me find an identity and a love and appreciation for music. It carried me through a difficult chapter in my story and gives me a lens of positivity to look back on it all. I hope there’s something that means to you what Random Access Memories means to me. I hope you’ve it to influence your life in one way or another because it’s a great feeling. I promise.
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at [email protected] He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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