Recently announcing a new album, they’re snapping an 8 year break since their last release. It’s without a doubt that there is unprecedented hype for the French EDM duo, which, I’m afraid, will only be held against them.
Daft Punk is the Dave Chappelle of electronic dance music (EDM). Like Chappelle, Daft Punk was experiencing the peak of success in their respective field only to suddenly reject it all. After the release of their last album, they’ve only been making small appearances (like Chappelle) and worked on projects outside of EDM (like Chappelle). They’re finally coming back with a new LP that is expected to release this year — about time; it’s been 8 years (and counting).
In 2005, they released their last proper album, Human After All (not including their live album, Alive 2007, or their score of Tron: Legacy). In 2007, they concluded their last proper tour as well. Since then, they have been ghosts.
Within this span, they have been making random, mini-appearances to try and remind everyone that they are still together. In fact, their commercial, God-like success didn’t come until years after their last LP release when Kanye West sampled “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” pretty much in its entirety. In 2010, they made an epic guest appearance with popular hipster-favorite, Phoenix, in a Madison Square Garden concert (they’ll probably do the same for this year’s Coachella). Aside from these few instances (and cool fan-made videos), they have been outside the public eye.
If they release an album in 2013, it will have been an eight year gap since the release of its predecessor (I have gone from a sophomore in high school to a college graduate). In that time, a lot has changed, especially in the capricious EDM scene. I don’t know if their sound will be as significant as it once was in this new, prosperous age of EDM.
Daft Punk is known for its French house style: one that is sample-heavy and influenced by classic and retro genres of North American music (e.g., Arena Rock, Disco, and Funk). During this unofficial hiatus, fellow French duo, Justice, took over the French house void that Daft Punk left empty. Since then, Justice has actually been more successful than Daft Punk in terms of critical acclaim and album sales (Justice’s last release, Audio, Video, Disco, peaked at #37; Daft Punk’s top selling album, Discovery, peaked at #44).
I am not saying that Daft Punk’s new album won’t outsell Justice’s (I actually suspect it be their most successful given their hype), but I would like to highlight that Daft Punk’s success hasn’t actually come from the popularity of their music directly. In fact, their last album, Human After All, was marginally as successful as Discovery was. Much of their success has come from their mysterious image, flamboyant performances, and high-caliber appearances which has created their nearly mythical aura that follows them.
Criticism of their last album was that it generally suffered from shallowness and redundancies. Spin magazine stated that Human After All “merely cuts and pastes.” Entertainment Weekly said it’s “dominated by overly repetitive, lumbering throwaways.” And Under The Radar claims it be “Daft Punk’s most programmed and artificial album to date, and this is just a part of what feels like an all in-joke record.”
I understand that critics aren’t everything (if anything) and that there has existed a clash between fans and critics since the beginning of time, but, if you are honest, you’ll agree the criticism has at least some basis. Since Homework, Daft Punk has generally stayed consistent with their three LPs which could easily be coined as “safe.” I’ve enjoyed all of Daft Punk’s albums, but Human After All lacked the magic that Homework or Discovery had — maybe that’s because I have heard it all before.
I can easily imagine a situation in which Daft Punk’s disappearance was influenced by the lackluster response; taking time to focus on new music, styles, and sounds. They, as creative talents, might have needed the hiatus.
During this break, they did venture into new territory: they composed a spectacular score for Tron: Legacy. Not only did they successfully create a soundtrack that rivals John Williams’ or Hans Zimmer’s best, but they did so with odes to their electronic background (which, to adhere to the futuristic Tron theme, they were obviously expected to do so). I don’t see why the duo won’t bring this experience to their newest album. In fact, rumors indicate so: composer Paul Williams claims they have collaborated together.
As mentioned earlier, 8 years is quite the break for any contemporary artist to release material. In the EDM world, it’s a century (that’s why Tiësto is a senior citizen in the scene). While French house used to rock the stages, it’s a different world and progressive house reigns supreme. But Daft Punk has always appealed to people in and outside of the EDM scene; they were seemingly successful before as a genre EDM was (that’s why they’ve always played along side of Coachella-like bands instead of EDC ones).
I believe they’re still positioned in a catch-22: because of the criticism the duo’s last release, they’ll obviously looking to do something new; but if they do something too new — let’s say adjusting to popular contemporary sounds — then there is a fear of drifting too far away from their style that made them Daft Punk. Although, if there is anyone seasoned enough that could manage this sensitive conundrum, it would be them — they obviously had the time.
Expectations will be at an all-time high; so high, in fact, I’m feeling sorry for them. I’ll be looking at this album without any expectations and I think you should strongly consider doing the same. This album is 8 years removed from their last which could feasibly be radically different from anything we heard before, or stubbornly the same, or somewhere in the middle. There’s evidence to assume all potential directions they may head towards. How about that for hedging my bets?
Residing in Las Vegas, I have been listening to EDM since the Eurodance craze of the 90s. I utilize my love for deep, philosophical thought and writing to cover the ever-expanding genre for ElectroJams. Question, concerns, or bitching can be directed to my Twitter account @yalepoloclub. I always love a good conversation.