Albums of the Aughts: Daft Punk’s Discovery

On a fateful September day in 1999, Guy-Manuel and Thomas Bangalter had what they themselves have referred to as “a little accident” in the studio. While in the early phases of recording their opus, the gorgeous blend of dance and indie that is Discovery, a synthesizer or sampler overloaded and exploded, knocking them out in what I can only imagine was a fiery burst of sparks, lasers, house, electronica and soul. When they regained consciousness, they were no longer their former selves. You see, they had to become robots to continue living — sadly it was the only way — and thus, the space age helmets, metallic gloves and (at times) LED lit leather jackets that they’ve appeared in exclusively (at least publicly) since that time. They were reborn into the new millennium as half-man/half-robot musical geniuses. The greatest part about this story — the duo insist that it actually happened. It’s more or less documented fact within the musical community.
Regardless of whether or not you believe the “accident” actually happened, something incredible most certainly did happen during the recording of Discovery. The album is a breakthrough in that it was able to merge two (or three or four) musical mindsets into one catchy, irresistible work of art. House and electronic more or less dominate the album as a whole. The opening track, “One More Time,” with its booming bass, upbeat high-hat rhythm and lyrical range of 10 words repeated over and over again has all the staples of a house song, and “Short Circuit” is a spaced out groove of interlocking synth lines that fills the ears with electro ecstasy. Then there are tunes like “Something About Us,” that are much harder to pin down. The music is completely sample based, but there’s something very organic and soulful about it as well, as if you’re listening to a Ray Charles or Curtis Mayfield song. “Digital Love” has all the smoothness and sentimentality of some of the most romantic songs of the decade, and yet is still somehow able to build up — somewhere between the 1:43 mark and that vocoded invitation of “why don’t you play the game?” — into a full-on, synth-drenched dance party. The amazing thing is, these elements are mixed together so deftly that you hardly ever notice it. Songs like “Digital Love” or “Face to Face” are not soul or love songs first and then later house songs, but both at the same time.
Daft Punk is a dance/electronic duo that a lot of us love because of the things they do that are not often found in that respective genre. This is why they can headline festivals surrounded by experimental folk, alt-country or punk outfits, and not only win the entire crowd many times over, but also seem to fit in perfectly fine amongst their much more rock-oriented peers. As they’d likely put it, the music is a marriage of half-robot precision/half-human emotion. As I’d put it, it’s unstoppably catchy.

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