Daft Punk, “Fragments of Time”
1. There’s only one way to experience this song at its best. You have to trust me. It’s the last day of recording in Los Angeles, and Todd Edwards has just packed up the last of his personal items and is preparing to leave the studio. Thomas and Guy-Manuel are sitting helmeted at a recording console, adjusting some levels and speaking quietly. Todd looks upon them fondly and turns for the door. The sun is just beginning to set, hanging heavy in the sky; the light is blinding. He stops, turning to look at the robots hovering over the console. He starts singing “Fragments of Time,” coming up with the lyrics on the spot, occasionally tossing in jazz hands, a single tear rolling down his cheek. Upon finishing, he takes a small bow and salutes, then steps into the glow, the door closing slowly behind him. I choose to believe that’s how this song was created.
2. I can’t say enough about the control and skill exercised by the rhythm section in this song, especially during the transition from the chorus into the solo portion. While the drums and bass are lively and active throughout the verses and chorus, spraying showy little fills everywhere they can, they really step out front and drive the pace around 2:56, even as the pedal steel and guitar maintain their place from the previous bars. When the talk-box (I think?) roars to life soon after, it’s ecstatic and surprising, but it didn’t just pop up out of nowhere — the groundwork had already been laid, rhythmically speaking, in a very neat way. I love hearing the craftsmanship and care present in that brief sequence, which could’ve been maybe 80% as good with half the effort; the polish and attention to detail was worth it.
Daft Punk, “Touch”
In the last few days and weeks of 1 B.R.A.M., I told anyone who asked that I was steeling myself for minor disappointment with the album. I knew that I had filled my internal hype reservoir to such an insane depth that it would take a flawless, life-altering record to justify my expectations. It’s been roughly two days since I heard Random Access Memories for the first time, and it’s not quite on that level, mostly because the level itself is unattainable by design. But there are moments and segments that leave me thinking that the hype might’ve been justified anyway, and a few such moments make up “Touch,” a supremely batshit, utterly brilliant odyssey bracketed by the album’s two most immediate tracks.
As “Touch” moves through its eight-plus minute runtime, it’s backlit by a palpable joy and reverence for a wider range of concepts and sounds than just “dance music”: operatic musicals, ABBA-style pop, interstellar fables, the simple, elementary click of a beautiful melody or the harmony of notes blending together. Many of the album’s best moments exist because Daft Punk had the power, vision, and money to find collaborators and performers with the skill to take that joy and reverence and translate it into song: the sheen and glow of “Lose Yourself to Dance” and “Get Lucky,” the wistfulness of “Fragments of Time,” the sheer scope of “Contact.” (It doesn’t get much bigger than having NASA give you carte blanche when you need a sample.) The idea motivating “Touch” is humanity, and our everyday struggle to maintain and find it within ourselves and the people around us. Daft Punk found Paul Williams for this, a man who has written an anthem for legendary puppets and written and performed a movie musical in the guise of a disfigured phantom; he’s excellent, ably emoting through the disco of the song’s first third and returning to close the narrative loop at its end.
I’m more interested in what comes between, as “Touch” jumps from funk to jaunty, brassy pop to sweeping, electro-cosmic vocoder-choral fantasia to a bouncing orchestral return. There’s an ambiguity to the lyric that holds these movements together as they spiral out of control and fly back into orbit that’s ineffably human: “Hold on, if love is the answer you want // Hold on, if love is the answer you’re wrong // Hold on, if love is the answer you’re home.” Being alive means that any of the three options above can be true at any given time. They aren’t mutually exclusive, either: love can at once be the answer you want and also totally the wrong answer. It’s a remarkably honest, organic statement, maybe the most touching one on an album from two robots whose best moments tap into a wholly unsynthetic, semi-unexplainable magic.
11. “The Game of Love”
10. “Giorgio by Moroder”
9. “Give Life Back to Music”
7. “Doin’ It Right”
5. “Instant Crush”
4. “Lose Yourself to Dance”
3. “Get Lucky”
2. “Fragments of Time”
Vampire Weekend, “Hannah Hunt”
My first and only girlfriend was named Hannah. We used to sit in her basement and watch reality shows on MTV Canada when the weather wasn’t nice enough to jump on her trampoline or bike around the lake. We kissed at a party one night in May, and when our friends and classmates hooted at us and we looked up burning it was with one of those fleeting rushes of young, local celebrity.
One thing I’ve learned is that any meaningful relationship can only really be understood by the two people in it. I can’t stop listening to this song even though I have a lot of other things to do, in large part because it takes that statement as truth and treats it with respect. “Though we live on the U.S. dollar, you and me / we’ve got our own sense of time.” “Hannah Hunt” is riddled with details but leaves their ultimate significance for our consideration: the crawling vines and weeping willows somewhere along the road, the frozen beaches of home, the thick paper used as fodder for an infant flame. It’s a gesture of kindness, an invitation to then imagine our own such sticky moments. I don’t know what “A man of faith said hidden eyes could see what I was thinking” means to Ezra Koenig or Rostam Batmanglij, but I know what it means to me, and when the song blooms like their feeble Santa Barbara fire it’s a late July sunset over that lake, it’s quick heat at a high school party, something I shared with my own Hannah once.
Oh, and I only remembered this half an hour after posting: the song we listened to most together was “Walcott,” tucked at the end of the debut album from this very band.
- I spent a lot of time listening to Devendra Banhart with my friends in high school, specifically Rejoicing in the Hands and Cripple Crow. The most difficult song I ever learned to play on guitar was “The Body Breaks.” I remember reading Rolling Stone and stumbling upon the review for Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, and then arranging a trip to the CD+ outlet in the mall to pick up a copy. I think four or five of us saw and heard in Banhart the image we had fashioned for ourselves: a bit arty, a bit whimsical and off-kilter, a bit weird, but still possessed of a sense of melody and purpose. His output trailed off and faltered towards the end of the decade, but his newest album Mala occasionally recaptures the magic that ran through his earliest work, never more so than on the mid-album instrumental “The Ballad of Keenan Milton.” I didn’t know the name before hearing the song. Keenan Milton was a skateboarder who accidentally drowned twelve years ago at a Fourth of July party, and the song perfectly captures the ache for someone long lost, sadness and anger having mellowed into something softer and sweeter. The first night I heard it I fell asleep with the song on repeat. It makes me feel that same ache for a few years ago, playing an acoustic guitar in the bowels of our high school’s theatre, bullshitting and cackling and making future plans.
- Charli XCX’s debut True Romance hasn’t left my speakers since it began streaming on Pitchfork Advance a few weeks ago. I don’t exactly recall what I was expecting, but when listening I always think, “This is completely exceeding my expectations!” Most of the standouts are singles that were previously released — “Nuclear Seasons,” “You (Ha Ha Ha),” “You’re the One” — but at least one new cut has immediately joined the ranks of the finest Charli songs. Everything I need to know about “So Far Away” is contained in the spinning kaleidoscope of a synth that forms the song’s backbone, a sound I found immediately affecting; when I think about dizzying, ultra-powerful infatuation, this is the sound I’ve been hearing all my life. (“Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad.”) When I make the effort to focus on Charli, I sense the same dark energy and charisma that drives her intrigue on every one of her other songs, papering over a few iffy lyrical moments, but most of the time I just let her fade away. This is one of those rare songs where the sound immediately takes me somewhere and I choose to ride that feeling to its ultimate destination, and she functions as just another component of that sound here. (I learned while zipping around YouTube for a link that “So Far Away” might’ve been recorded as early as 2009, and pulls heavily from a song of the same title by a British producer named Paul White, which itself seems to sample Todd Rundgren, and that Charli’s version was included on the UK and Australian releases of the You’re the One EP AND her Heartbreaks and Earthquakes mixtape from last year. The more you know!)
- I’ve spent maybe a week and a half focusing on EDM, and here are a few of my incredibly amateur conclusions: 1) almost every producer is like a baseball player that either hits a home run or strikes out, and there isn’t much variance in the batting averages (certainly no one is smacking singles and doubles and frequently getting on base) 2) the only two components affecting a song’s success are melody and magnitude, the former’s meaning being obvious and the latter meaning the size of the release that arrives upon hitting the chorus 3) there’s something called the Womp Spectrum with Avicii at one end (nearly pure house) and Skrillex at the other (once and future king of the drops), and everyone else falls somewhere between those two poles in their own work 4) there are a disturbing, startling lack of prominent women producing, from what I’ve seen 5) Calvin Harris’ “Sweet Nothing” is probably the best song ever recorded 6) Cazzette’s “Beam Me Up” has already taken over college campuses and has a good chance of being everywhere this summer 7) Avicii is my favourite producer going out of this scene — he has a certain touch and handle, especially on his longer mixes (“Silhouettes,” “X You”) that i) isn’t too far distanced from critically beloved stuff like Todd Terje and Lindstrøm and ii) is much more apparent than in everyone else’s work. I still have some diving to do.
- Smarter, more invested people are going to say a lot about this than I am, but the video for “Body Party” came out last night, and suffice it to say that the presumptive favourite for the year’s best song now has the brilliant cinematic rendering it deserves. I want to focus on the dramatic interludes between Future and Ciara quickly, only to say this: I know that they’re celebrities and so every interaction between them needs to be taken with one hundred grains of salt, and that it’s commercially beneficial for Future to appear in this video, and that I and everyone else in my Twitter feed are way too invested in this relationship to be considered healthy, functioning humans, BUT I’ll be damned if my eyes didn’t start to water when they introduced themselves and Future held her hand for a few seconds longer than necessary. (P.S. I’m leading the Future for Best Supporting Actor campaign, please email for more details. “They don’t call me the Future for no reason.”) Their whole conservation is adorably awkward but crackling with a true chemistry that’s immediately palpable to anyone who has ever been attracted to anyone else (I think.) I want to believe in CiBandz, I really do.
- One more thing: allow me to remind you that I’m visiting New York from May 10-13 and that you should contact me if you’re available to get together quickly for a meal or a snack or whatever. I’m also soliciting food recommendations, because if I’m being absolutely honest 90% of my hopes and dreams for this trip revolve around food. I’m already going to Shake Shack once and probably Mighty Quinn’s for barbecue stuff — please tell me your favourites and I will probably eat them. (And get in touch so we can eat them together!)