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Daft Punk strives to return life to dance music with new album

Thomas Bangalter Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo

Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo

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Updated: May 21, 2013 8:44AM

Daft Punk, “Random Access Memories” (Columbia) ½

In 1984, before most of us owned a personal computer, novelist William Gibson coined the word “cyberspace.” His spatial concept of a digital functionality — a place that one jacks into — set the tone for two decades of comprehending virtuality as an in-the-box idea and seeded pop culture for everything through “The Matrix.” In his 2007 novel, Spook Country, however, Gibson killed off his own concept. Cyberspace is a metaphorical illusion, he concluded, as he observed the ubiquitous, out-of-the-box computing functions that now pervade everyday reality. “There isn’t any cyberspace, is there?” considers one character. “There never was, if you want to look at it that way. It was a way we had of looking where we were headed, a direction.”

Consider the acronym EDM and all its various cumbersome and hyphenated forbears as music’s “cyberspace,” and consider Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” as the concept’s command-Q keystroke.

After the disappointing “Tron: Legacy” (2010) soundtrack, “RAM,” Daft Punk’s first full record in eight years, is not a great record overall — dull in spots, self-indulgent throughout — but it is a valuable, instructive one. “It’s not that we can’t make crazy futuristic sounding stuff,” explains Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, half of the robot-helmeted duo with Thomas Bangalter, “but we wanted to play with the past.” This is exactly what they do across the long sprawl of their aptly titled new album.

While contemporary hipsters have been salivating all over social media about this album’s eagerly anticipated new EDM salvo, Daft Punk — themselves partially responsible for establishing electronic dance music’s long-awaited foothold — instead has delivered a potent reminder that classifications are permeable and hyphens have history. Just as Disco Demolition Night was part of a reactionary overgeneralization of a music style that contained plenty of diamonds amid its discards, the massive hype preceding “RAM” illuminates our rush to box up electronic music into one particular acronym, complete with its unforgiving rules of style.

Opening with “Give Life Back to Music,” a simple mid-tempo groove with some loose-wrist guitar and a vocoded refrain, “RAM” strives to return life at least to dance music. A bevy of guests, mostly heroes from the duo’s beloved 1970s and ’80s pop and disco records, contributes to what becomes a giant memory mash-up, a remix of what they all recall “dance music” used to sound and feel like — perhaps not from a dance floor.

The nine-minute “Giorgio by Moroder” features synth pioneer Giorgio Moroder, 73, speaking about his hand in crafting “the sound of the future.” Paul Williams, one of America’s best songwriters with a heyday in the ’70s, wrote and sings the typically sentimental eight-minute “Touch,” a kind of jaunty post-“Yoshimi” robot yearning. Guests aren’t all geezers, however: the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas remains in falsetto mode for the tepid “Instant Crush.” The two Pharrell Williams neo-disco tracks are insipid even for dance music.

But music has many uses, and what we usually refer to as dance music is deployed more often in living rooms and on commutes than

So the result of this album’s blend of songcraft and sounds should be a Gibson-ish realization crucial to many millennials: There is no dance music, is there? Indeed, there never was, if you want to look at it that way …

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