The Outbreak: All killer, no filler

Monday, March 07, 2005

All killer, no filler

I think we can all rest assured that there's a particularly uncomfortable section of Hell reserved for Sum 41 because of how they ruined that phrase for the rest of us. And because of a wide array of other reasons.

"All killer, no filler" is a good way to describe Daft Punk's new record Human After All, as it turns out. I found this somewhat surprising based on the nature of their last album, Discovery. Now, as anyone who has listened to that album can tell you, the first four songs ("One More Time," "Aerodynamic," "Digital Love," "Harder Better Faster Stronger") comprise pretty much the best first-four-song sequence on any album whose first four songs are not called "Black Dog," "Rock and Roll," "The Battle of Evermore" and "Stairway to Heaven"--I defy you to find me a better suite of hands-in-the-air-there's-a-party-over-there music on God's Gray Earth. Unfortunately, the rest of Discovery can't help but feel like a let-down by way of comparison. Out of the entire 14-song platter, I think around nine are worth listening to. (The others being "Something About Us," "Voyager," "Veridis Quo," (especially) "Face to Face," and, depending on what mood you're in, either "Nightvision," "High Life," or "Short Circuit.") And the five (or so) clunkers are real killers, man. That closing song, "Too Long"? Talk about truth in advertising!

So the first thing you notice is that Human After All is pretty much wall-to-wall rockin’. Seriously, you throw this bad boy on in your car and your head will nod from beginning to end, to the point where about halfway through the album you’ll actually think to yourself “Jeez, am I still bobbing my head?” The second thing you’ll notice is that the house feel of Discovery and its direct antecedent, the classic single “Music Sounds Better with You” by DP side project Stardust, is gone, vocals by Romanthony and all. We’re back quite solidly in the electro-funk vein first tapped in DP’s debut album Homework. But these folks are so good at it that it doesn’t feel like a step backward at all. It feels like they took some time off to sharpen their weapons, then came back and killed with them, is what it feels like.

I’m serious. Human After All’s title track is a relentless funk monster, proof that in a world of “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House,” Daft Punk themselves can still hang. When the vocoded vocals kicked in I actually exclaimed, out loud, “Wow, this is pretty good!” Ditto the next two tracks, the grindingly glitter of “The Prime Time of Your Life” and the eye-of-the-tiger techno of “Robot Rock.” DP’s ability to wring mightily entertaining music out of the most shit-stupid early-‘80s pop-rock-dance clichés—vocal distortion, guitars that are overproduced by an order of magnitude, the sudden halt of all music at once--is awe inspiring. Like any good post-1985 superhero comic you’d care to name, they make you marvel simultaneously at both the sheer visceral joy of a well-executed trope and the self-awareness and cleverness with which they utilize them.

And as I said, the awesomeness pretty much does. not. stop. Tracks like “The Brainwasher” will appeal to the Chem Bros/Meat Beat fans out there; you can pretty much guess how “Television Rules the Nation” will sound based on the title alone and gauge your interest in the track from there (me: yes please!); the chipmunk-esque litany of can-do I.T. department tasks “Technologic” has probably already been used as background music in a runway show, and if not, I will bet you a thousand American dollars that it will be. But the album’s most intriguing song is “Make Love,” a subdued and eerie number that fades in, eventually fades out, and seems tailor-made to be used over the end credits of a Sopranos episode next season.

All in all this is a fabulous album, and I really wish it wasn’t because now I’m going to have to go buy the damn thing rather than just rely on the bootleg mp3s I got, which is what I was gonna do if it was only so-so. But I need that much rock, people.

*postscript: Okay, so there’s one throwaway found-noise track that lasts for a minute in the middle of the album. It’s short, you’ll get over it.


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