daftpunkrandom.pngDAFT PUNK: Random Access Memories
Universal, 74 minutes
Rating: 4.5/5

After hearing “Get Lucky,” the effervescent first single from Daft Punk’s fourth album Random Access Memories, I feared how closely it would represent the album as a whole. The song is a sleek, self-contained ‘70s disco-funk homage, not the kind of thing that lends itself naturally to a 74-minute album.

Thankfully while “Get Lucky” is a wonderful introduction to Random Access Memories the album moves in many wonderful and surprising directions, too many to properly summarize in 200 words. There’s the half-funk, half-‘80s-movie-montage-soundtrack opener “Give Life Back to Music,” the weightless, haunting “Within” and even some “classic” Daft Punk resurgence in “Contact.” The album’s certified moment of pop perfection may be “Doin’ it Right,” featuring the ethereal vocals of Panda Bear / Noah Lennox of Animal Collective.

Of course with so many ideas and collaborators at play not everything works to the album’s benefit. “Giorgio by Moroder” soundtracks a biographical monologue from era-appropriate producer Giorgio Moroder, briefly, before continuing on as a mid-tempo jam. At almost 10 minutes it may have worked better as a standalone single, and anyone using RAM to soundtrack a house party may find it particularly skip-able.

But that’s the truth of the album: all of it works, just not always as a whole. It’s a long, multifaceted record that will inspire analysis and intrigue for the rest of the duo’s career and beyond.

NationalTrouble.jpgTHE NATIONAL: Trouble Will Find Me
4AD, 55 minutes
Rating: 3/5

The National are one of those bands offering a specific, deeply-felt sentiment. In this case, it’s the loneliness that comes from being surrounded by people, the feeling of isolation in the company of friends and lovers.

That’s what almost every National song is about, more or less, but it’s proven surprisingly potent over six albums. Trouble Will Find Me may one day prove to be among their best, in the right frame of mind, but on first (and second, and third) pass it feels particularly morose and downbeat. Things don’t get off to a roaring start with the droopy “I Should Live in Salt” and sad-sack anthem “Demons.” It takes five tracks in to get to a real rock song, “Sea of Love.”

Throughout Boxer (2007) and sporadically on High Violent (2010) frontman Matt Beringer seemed capable of finding humour and lightness, even in the darkest tunes. Trouble Will Find Me finds him losing his defences and succumbing to the weight of his own art. It’s not a bad album, containing some of the band’s most beautiful songs (“Slipped” shines) but without much relief it has an adolescent quality to it: depressed just for the sake of it.

majicalcloudzcover.jpgMAJICAL CLOUDZ: Impersonator
Matador, 38 minutes
Rating: 4/5

Majical Cloudz don’t seem to work on impulse; even the goofy spelling of their name was thought-out and remains purposeful, explained by frontman Devon Welsh as a serious effort to give the project an individual identity.

In that same interview with us last year Welsh said he had a “severe vision” of what he wanted Majical Cloudz to achieve musically, and their first full-length album Impersonator confirms that. Its title track is both warped and spot-on, as ghostly, distorted vocals background Welsh’s pseudo-mission statement: “This song is proof that I’m trying.”

He sure is. With Matthew Otto, Welsh has created a unique and compelling space to get lost in, perhaps the masculine equivalent of collaborator Grimes’ electro-pop fantasy world. The greatest draw is his  voice, a low, warm hum of a thing that carries the music even when it lacks a perceptible beat (“This is Magic”).

I doubt I’ve heard a debut album as assured as Impersonator in many a month. Welsh’s low-key, minimalist kind of pop may not be for everyone, but it is certainly the music he wants to make, fully realized and complete.

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