Last night at Midnight, many excited fans finally got a hold of something they’ve wanted for a very long time.
I, of course, am talking about The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, the long-awaited sequel to Breath of the Wild, the beloved Switch installment of the long running franchise. That said, I couldn’t join them last night1.
Instead, I found myself hitting play on another long-awaited release, last night’s drop of the 10th Anniversary edition of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.
Besides being gobsmacked that it’s been 10 years since the release of what would — unbeknownst to us — become Daft Punk’s last album, I immediately wanted to jump into the second “disc”2, filled with different odds-and-ends from the album’s sessions.
When Random Access Memories dropped a decade ago, the response was mixed, to say the least. Daft Punk was coming off of the stunning career one-two punch of their score to Tron: Legacy, an amazing step-up in profile and difficulty for the French dance music duo, and their Alive: 2007 tour and album, an amazing, enthralling mix of literally their entire career to this point. A mashup of literally all their work to this point, Alive: 2007 served as a celebration of their success, recontextualizing songs from Homework, Discovery and Human After All into one massive celebration of music, grooves and a career well spent. They dug deep into the music they made and generated a new appreciation of it all.
When the massive marketing campaign for Random Access Memories hit, people were expecting something the next Discovery, but instead, they got something quirkier. Sure, Daft Punk received the greatest charting single of their career in “Get Lucky”, but after decades of sample fueled dance hits, the masked robots of Thomas and Guy-Man chose to look back to the records that made them, and put together a true 70’s disco record. In the 2010s.
This was extremely polarizing. Though the appreciation of the record has grown over the years, the hardcore Daft Punk fan base didn’t know what to do with the album placed before them.
And that’s part of what I found so intriguing with this 10 year release. Sure, you’d be getting the expected international release B-Sides (“Horizon”), but you’d also be getting a look at the duo’s creative process, with a number of demos and unspoken of lost tracks. Even the bitter-sweet alternate version of “Touch” which soundtracked their 2021 farewell video.
But there was one track that piqued my interest.
I’d heard “Horizon” previously, and knew there was a lost Julian Casablancas song (“Infinity Repeating”), but what was this?
In turn, at about midnight last night, that was the first track I hit play on.
I played it once. I played it twice. I played it three times.
Turns out, for a fan of Daft Punk, this track is almost like a Rosetta Stone.
It’s the inflection point from the Tron: Legacy score into the Random Access Memories-era.
The groove is there, but so are the real instruments. The strings, the hypnotic vibes, you lose yourself in it. And yet, you’re teased by what could’ve been. It says it in the title — 2012 Unfinished — this was a song they weren’t able to figure out. It’s a puzzle minus a key piece.
Yet, at the same time, it’s incredible. It’s funny how a creative never sees the full positives of their work. They see the poorly drawn lines, the grammatical errors, the hook that didn’t hit the heights they wanted. “Prime”, even in this form, snakes its way into your brain, and won’t let you go.
I was immediately reminded of another of my favorite musical acts, The Appleseed Cast, who in 2012 as a creative project, opened the doors to their demos in process. Those have been long since archived, but one track lived on on a compilation album. The song later became “North Star Ordination” on Illumination Ritual, but in hearing the demo, found here, there’s a similarity to “Prime”. It’s a work trying to find itself. All the pieces may not be there, but you’re enthralled. And you wonder what could be.
It’s been two years since Daft Punk called it quits. One half of the duo, Thomas Bangalter, did press recently surrounding his original ballet(!), speaking to the BBC.
In it he said, about their robot-era:
As much as I love this character, the last thing I would want to be, in the world we live in, in 2023, is a robot.
Is it any wonder then, that today, 10 years after the release of Random Access Memories, with “Prime”, we’re getting a look at Daft Punk at their most human. Creating something real and true, and wondering what could have been.
Random Access Memories (10th Anniversary Edition is streaming now.