Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" -- Daft Punk (Discovery)

Here's a song that, while having absolutely no right to do so, sounds timeless (for a definition of timeless meaning, "could have been recorded any time in the last 30 years." There was no time before that, right?). It would be perfect for the soundtrack of Tron if everyone involved in the production in 1982 had been stoned (as opposed to just the screenwriter and all the people watching it). It also brings up several questions for discussion:

Question 1: Straight-up stealing from other artists: genius, or laziness? Discuss.
Question 2: "Believe" by Cher: is it the single nexus of sound responsible for the nigh-hegemonic, Anteres over-pitch-corrected weirdly post-disco sound found in all top-40 music today? Discuss.

Besides that, what have we got? I find the cheesy synth, casio-keyboard beat concoction of this song to be strangely compelling--it's something I've heard literally a million times before, yet I still can't quite place all the sources. In addition to the hyper pitch correction and other robotic-vocal effects (apparently these guys have gone into interviews and pretended to be robots, in true Tracy Jordan style), there are some neat tricks, both with rhythm (e.g. landing on "never over" at the end of several phrases) and instrumentation (e.g. the portamento keyboard voice, the fingertapping electric guitar voice, both of which I assume are MIDI triggers). 30 seconds of intro with all the dynamics EQ'd out, as if we're listening to tiny, tinny speakers. But the rest of the song doesn't really have a huge dynamic range, and sounds tinny and cheesy by nature, so it doesn't really "pop" when it actually comes in. Is this purposeful/a miscalculation/indicative of the fact that these guys just throw every musical trick they've ever heard at the wall and see what sticks?

What do we learn about stealing?
  • Leave a gap--the clever folks and critical darlings making music right now seem to be taking sounds from the late 70's/early 80's, so what's that--25-ish to 30 years (By that calculation we're due for a major popular resurgence of Michael Jackson's Thriller right about now)? You sound like Stevie Wonder's Inner Visions, you're a genius. You sound like the late 90's, you're a no-talent hack.
  • Steal outright, whole-cloth. Do what it takes to reproduce the sound of the era at which you're aiming. Don't worry about also sounding current--you seem to get that for free.


fronesis said...

Sorry, just now caught on to the fact that you are blogging again. Excellent. Maybe it will inspire me to start blogging again; I could do this exercise with, like, political theory or something - except no one would want to read that.

OK, so a few comments on your first 3 entries:

A. Fleet Foxes are not UTTERLY like nothing else. Indeed, they sound a lot like CSN and Simon and Garfunkel, as a lot of folks have already said. But I think they really sound like Supertramp. I mean, a lot. And this proves your point from today - late 70s early 80s is the place from which to steal.

B. Elliot Smith analysis is genius. My question: how would you apply this to Nick Drake, whose 'Five Leaves Left' I just bought today for $2 from Amazon?

C. I'm not challenging your analysis, but I don't like the song at all. See, I don't care how much genius there is, I NEED Lyrics. Sort of like MTG needs narrative and the love, I can't have a robot saying the same few words over and over and call it a song. It might be a nice technical exercise, but I'm not buying it - not even close.

Transient Gadfly said...

I wouldn't say that I "like" the Daft Punk song either per se--it's not something I listen to regularly, any way. I am, though, definitely less picky about needing some lyrical narrative. I'll definitely take the repetitive robotic chanting or what have you, if the rest of the song is worthwhile.

In general, I haven't really defined the criteria for the songs I'm choosing, but it's something along the lines of, "songs which are successful (for some definition of successful, yet to be determined)."

Supertramp <=> Fleet Foxes. Totally hadn't thought of that. Totally genius comparison.

fronesis said...

Hey, can I nominate songs for analysis? Because I would really like someone who knows 20x more than I do to give me the technical explanation for why Exit is such a great song. I easily place it in my u2 top 10, despite the fact that it was never released, isn't well-known, and was only played on the Joshua Tree tour. But there's this great story: last winter someone played it on Dutch radio after they released a single version of it there (for some reason associated with the 20th anniversary of the Joshua Tree) and over the next 2 weeks it made it into the Dutch top 10 - purchased by a bunch of non-u2 fans who'd never heard it.

alicia said...

I would like to respond to the discussion command. 1. genius. because I am only going to know who you are if you have "made it" and if you've made it, then you've done the "right" thing. proof? you have a large house staff and a bentley and other people talk about you. yes, my perspective is bland americana.. but have you met me? and the rest of this country?
2. i love cher. and i love that song. i don't know why but see #1 for clues. also note that when it comes to music i have no idea what i am talking about..

i like the new spin on the blog!

Transient Gadfly said...

1) Genius != Successful. That much I know for sure, but otherwise I don't have a definition, musically speaking. Like porn, I know it when I see it. Sometimes.

2) Confession time: I liked that song the first time I heard it. Probably the second and third time, too. By the 347th time I was a little sick of it. Love or hate, though, I think its influence on current popular music is undeniable.

sageblue said...

You know of course that our brothers in song did this: