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Why Daft Punk's 'Discovery' Stands the Test of Time

The unmistakable melodic hook leading into “One More Time” can immediately change a dulled crowd into a frenzy. It’s the beginning of a journey into one of the most creative and inventive albums of the 21st century. The French duo behind the legend Daft Punk, comprised of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter aimed to create an album which expressed the freedom of music. Not only were they able to achieve their objective with great success, but also changed the landscape of electronic music as we know it.

Image result for daft punk unmaskedDiscovery was Daft Punk’s second body of work, coming four years after their debut album, Homework. Their first album was a clear indication that the potential of the duo was boundless, but they really came into their own through Discovery. Interestingly enough, the duo used the same instrumentation used for Homework on Discovery. After creating 2 tracks for the album, Daft Punk decided to make an album outside of the realm of House, the dominant genre at the time.

Discovery was arguably the most successful breakthrough in combining electronic music with other genres. The tracks highlight disco, rock, funk, garage, and R&B meshed into a cohesive smooth flowing album. Each track is unforgettable in its own right, encompassing a different aspect of the duo’s creativity. The duo’s use of sampling was the secret sauce behind the greatness of Discovery. Interestingly enough, although many of the tracks use samples. The duo recreated the majority of the samples themselves.


One More Time

“One More Time” topped the charts in several countries and is one of Daft Punk’s most recognizable tracks. Leading in with a sampled brass piece from a funk song from the ’70s, the brightness of the hook is unmistakable.  The track comprises a catchy disco-funk beat that is easy to dance to. While French house music is generally repetitive, “One More Time” strips the funk elements of the track halfway into the song to focus on a more orchestral approach, topped with melodic vocals. The track then leads us back in for another round of the dance elements that fill the soundscape with a new life. Beyond the musical flawlessness of the track, the lyrics have a profound message of uniting people through the power of music.


Aerodynamic

“Aerodynamic” presents one of the greatest unisons between rock music and the electronic genre.  The ominous bell sample rings at the beginning of the track before cutting into the funky guitar riff. Which leads into the most iconic guitar solo in an electronic album to date. By compressing, and EQing across the track, each element included is unmistakable. The use of heavy arpeggio has inspired many newer electronic tracks as a result. “Aerodynamic” uses arpeggios, which has arguably influenced genres like Future Bass. Artists like LCD Soundsystem and Madeon even sample the track in their own works.


Digital Love

It is often difficult to distinguish Daft Punks Funk, Rock, and EDM elements from each other. The flawless blend between the sounds is especially difficult to parse in this particular song. “Digital Love” explores a softer tone than the other two tracks. The kick is coupled with synthesized vocals and an upbeat guitar sample. “Digital Love” is stylistically positive, played in A major. The lyrics are centered around the fleeting happiness of an amazing night surrounding the lyricist’s love. The ideas in the song are not only universal but relevant, even after 18+ years.  Digital Love has its roots grounded in its influences, taking ideas and samples from that time and incorporating them into the songs.


Harder Better Faster Stronger

Easily touted as one of the most influential tracks of its time, “Harder Better Faster Stronger” is one of Daft Punk’s most iconic pieces. This track is the only one on the album that has its lyrics completely crafted by a vocoder. The duo delved into experimentation with this track. According to Thomas, they attempted to make instruments sound like other instruments. For example, th e guitar sounds like a synthesizer and vice versa. The duo also focused on pitch modulation; blending their synthesized sounds with organic ones. While the transitions are not seamless, the grittiness adds life to the track. The lyrics are broken up into pieces and arranged in a fashion that bounces between two syllable groups.Kanye sampled the vocal elements in his 2006 track, Stronger. In 2008 the duo performed Stronger with Kanye at the Grammies, using their iconic pyramid from the 2007 Alive tour.


Crescendolls

“Crescendolls” is another clear example of Daft Punk using samples and pitch to drive a rhythmic pattern in a song’s progression. According to the booklet that comes with Discovery, the track is stated as instrumental. This does not come as a surprise as the few words they use in the loops are mostly incomprehensible. Crescendolls has one breakdown that focuses on the kick, inserting samples in at just the right time. Just before jumping back into the high tempo sample that dominates the track, they use a violin like lead in that gives the track the reset it needs to jump in.


Nightvision

Drastically different from its counterparts, “Nightvision” is an extremely mellow and reflective piece. Using synths as a wash over and the kick imitating a beating heart. In the same way that many of the tracks in the album have a breakdown or tonal shift, “Nightvision” acts as the tonal shift for the album as a whole.


Superheroes

“Superheroes” is another sample heavy, upbeat anthem. Beyond the musical composition of the track, the duo uses sound effects to imitate laser sounds and arpeggios to create a space like atmosphere. This is largely in part due to the heavy emphasis of futuristic and space themed music that was prominent in the ’70s and ’80s. Since Discovery is an attempt to view music through the non-judging lens of childhood, the duo leans on the music that they grew up with as a basis for their work on Discovery.


High Life

“High Life” highlights Daft Punk’s ability to chop up samples and make them uniquely theirs. By using a sample from the 1980’s track “Break Down for Love.” The only similarity that is noticeable between the two tracks is the melody used for the vocals. Other than that, it is impossible to find what elements the duo lifted in order to create the song. This song also explores the use of vocal chops, which has been expanded on by artists like Flume and ODESZA in their music.


Something About Us

“Something About Us” is another track that slows the pace of the album to set a different tone. It was the sixth and final single off of Discovery to promote the release of Interstella 5555. The lyrics suggest that the singer’s feelings are so strong, he must confess his love even if he will not be loved back. This ties into the sentiment conveyed in their other tracks like Digital Love. A sense of longing seems to be an ongoing theme in the album, which is separate from the high paced intensity surrounding the other tracks.


Voyager

“Voyager” acts as another one of those tracks that creates a holistic overview of the album within itself. It’s bass lead coupled with the higher pitched guitar sample set the rhythmic pace for the track. During the breakdown, the Duo uses an arpeggiator that gives the track an ethereal space-like sound, it is at this point where we see why the track is called “Voyager.”


Veridis Quo

Although some may assume that Veridis Quo is French, the phrase is actually word plays on the Latin phrase “Quo Vadis” which translates to “Where are you going” or “To what end.” Veridis Quo can also be read as “very disco” which inverted is “discovery,” the album title. The song takes a slower more spacey approach, with long chord attacks, and arpeggios to fill the background.


Short Circuit

“Short Circuit” is one of the only tracks that is dominated by synths throughout the track. Although the duo has great versatility with their synths, the songs most interesting section starts at 1:39 where they break down the track to the bare essentials. The jarred chord progressions give the track a unique feel that they continue to explore, adding more jarring elements until it dominates the track and eventually brings it to its end.


Face To Face

“Face to Face” is another great example of sample and vocal breakdowns and chops respectively. The track is centered around funk and disco elements but has its strongest vocal delivery from the entire album. Todd Edwards, an American garage house producer lent his vocals to the duo for the track. The cut up elements are largely in part due to Edwards who often used the technique in his own works. The track reached #1 on the US Dance Billboard charts in 2004.


Too Long

The final song of the album was actually the second song written back in 1998. Interestingly enough the song is 10 minutes long, while not uncommon for house music, is certainly not standard in the mainstream world. Too Long has one of the best payoffs as a result of its length. The duo consistently switches up what elements are added or taken away from the track keeping it light and fun. At 4:29 Daft Punk includes a sample that incorporates vocal and synthetic elements that make the track vibrant. It is a great send-off as the last track of the album, sort of like a long goodbye.


Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem

As an avid lover of space, anime, and electronic music, Interstella 5555 is essentially the whole package. Daft Punk’s members were also big fans of these three elements which spurred a feature-length film that included the entirety of Discovery. The early 2000’s animation is more reminiscent of older Japanese animation, which focused heavily on the sci-fi aspects of space. In the same way that Discovery is a callback to ’70s and ’80s music, Interstella 5555 mirrors it by calling back to anime of that day and age.

Takeaway

Overall Daft Punk’s Discovery transcends its own time as it pushed the bounds of electronic music while simultaneously reflecting on the music of their childhood. Every revisit to the album has given me new insight into each track, furthering my appreciation of the album. Like every piece of work, the album has its flaws. However, the majority of the flaws are minute and are drastically overshadowed by the genius of this album. I truly believe Discovery will continue to stand the test of time.


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  1. Really great read! I love the deep level of knowledge as well as genuine passion mixed within in this piece. Overall, really fantastic. Thanks for writing.

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