Does anyone really expect Daft Punk to save anything except the receipts for their latest equipment? The preemptive hand-wringing by the rabidly curious over the paucity of ideas, sonics, grooves, and feeling on the French house duo’s Human After All reads like sweet vindication for folks who found the Vocoders, cheese, Francophilia if not Francophonics, and extreme repetition of 1997’s Homework and 2001’s Discovery as deadeningly stupid as disco’s detractors have always said disco was. But it’s the believers I’m worried about, because I was one myself once.
So, OK, let’s concede that Human is a major disappointment. But heartbreaking? Mostly, it shows us what Daft Punk sounds like to people who have no use for low-pass filters, robot divas, keytars, unchanging 4/4 all night long, or the gloss that is their greatest asset. On Discovery, every shimmering surface conjured an aural utopia that offset and deepened the duo’s knowingness, demanding you be swept away if you’re a fan, in on the joke if you’re a skeptic, and both if you’re paying any attention at all.
Human After All is determinedly monochromatic aurally, compositionally, and mood-wise. Gosh, they really are robots—the music is flat, barely inflected, sitting there like a vending machine waiting patiently for your quarters. Apart from the single “Robot Rock,” which punches up Breakwater’s 1980 funk obscurity, “Release the Beast,” with a sub-Shep Pettibone re-edit, and “Technologic,” which figures Discovery‘s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” might sound nice in demo form and is just barely right, nothing here registers save “The Brainwasher,” which appears to be a third-rate parody of circa-’92 Eurorave, only with better filters and not as much propulsion. The rest is less funny.
That’s not a problem for LCD Soundsystem, the artistic alias of DFA producer James Murphy, whose “Losing My Edge” remains post-rave’s greatest comedy record. Murphy seems obsessed with Daft Punk, name-checking them in “Edge” (he’s the first to play them “to the rock kids at CBGB’s”) and titling the lead track on LCD’s debut “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House.” (I eagerly await the B-side response to Human, “What the Fuck, Daft Punk?”) On the 12-inches that preceded the album and make up its second disc, Murphy works in gray scale, too, but fills in so many details they seem to surround you—see how “Yeah (Crass Version)” builds from head-down disco shuffle to acid freakout, or how those mini-explosions ratchet “Edge” from skinny-tie smirk to frothing incoherence.
This strategy made those two LCD singles as epochal to reformed rave brats and indie kids who spent 2000-01 realizing pro- duction is our friend as Demolition Plot J-7 and Perfect Sound Forever were to sloppy early-’90s undergrads. LCD Soundsystem shares some of Slanted & Enchanted‘s sloppy-but-right brio, but where Pavement used their album to expand, LCD‘s first disc—”the album” to disc two’s “singles comp”—sounds like a contraction, each song its own discrete postcard from a field trip rather than a canvas on which to mesh multiple ideas. (For an example of the latter, see Black Leotard Front’s astounding 15-minute “Casual Friday” from DFA Compilation #2, just out on 12-inch.)
If the good ol’ albums/singles split seems a bit anachronistic, Murphy’s instincts are sharp enough to warrant it (though I still prefer the singles disc). If most of disc one can be traced back to specific antecedents—”Thrills” is Suicide-al synth-rockabilly, “Movement” nods to “Warm Leatherette,” “Great Release” is Eno singing with the fishes—it feels and moves like one thing, made during one period. Shoehorning “Edge” or “Yeah” into it would have disrupted things; besides, he’d already co-produced the Rapture’s patchwork-like Echoes, so maybe he didn’t feel like doing it again. Which means he’s just like Daft Punk, only better.
LCD Soundsystem play the Bowery Ballroom April 2.