If Daft Punk took the funk back to the punk on their monumental 1997 debut, Homework, their second album, Discovery, sends pop hurtling toward the future.
Driven by, among other things, a steadfast refusal to repeat themselves, electronic wunderkinds Thomas Bangalter, 26, and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, 27, largely abandon the down-and-dirty, filtered fiesta of Homework in favor of concise, emotive vignettes (most less than four minutes long) that range in style from syrupy synth-pop to hyper-house to heavy metal and disco.
"Making 10-minute tracks with one idea is something we've done a lot," Bangalter said, referring to the duo's fondness for minimalism. "Here we wanted to make a three-minute track with 40 ideas."
Using the same equipment and technical processes in their Paris studio as they used on Homework, whose tracks were recorded between 1993 and '96, the pair strove to add a "more emotional dimension" to Discovery, which was produced over two years beginning in spring 1998. Although the new album certainly storms on songs such as "High Life" and "One More Time," the lead single, it also turns reflective, even a bit schmaltzy, on "Something About Us" and "Digital Love."
"Homework was very much a manifesto for electronic music at the time and a rough and raw thing that was more about sound production and textures and a very physical dimension," Bangalter explained. "With Discovery we played with new forms and song structures, and vocals as well, but it's pretty much the same thing, only with chords and harmonies and layers of frequencies."
As evidence, even kinetic workouts like "Superheroes" or "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," while suitable for the dancefloor, are clearly not catered solely for it. They may be wrought with the dynamic production that made Homework so engaging, but they're actually intended for a more discerning ear. Bangalter said that the 10-minute house jam that closes the album, "Too Long," a collaboration with New Jersey house producer/singer Romanthony, was a signal to the duo to "work like a puzzle on the balance" of the album.
"'Too Long' was among the first tracks we did [for Discovery], and we considered it proper house music as the rules define it," he said. "It was a starting point for us, because then we knew we didn't want to do 14 more house tracks; we took it from there, having the whole plot and map of the album without going to the same place twice."
The album's most intriguing tracks, accordingly, best embody Daft Punk's original goal of exploring a new musical landscape one they claim is inspired by none other than Aphex Twin, specifically his undulating 1999 single "Windowlicker," which Bangalter called "neither a purely club track nor a very chilled-out, down-tempo relaxation track."
"We found that ... the middle would have a very strong emotional dimension that was instantly accessible to our ears and very experimental at the same time," he said.
This condensing of the electronic-music spectrum is evident throughout Discovery, from the stutter step of "Face to Face," which features New Jersey producer Todd Edwards, to the soaring guitar solo of "Aerodynamic." Whether they've formatted the template for dance music's next era remains to be seen, not that Daft Punk are concerned with such trivial matters.
"For us it's much more of a personal process, we do it because we like to do it and because it brings a lot of things on a personal level," Bangalter said. "We'll get older, and we won't want to do the same thing as Discovery, or Homework. We just move on and have different approaches and views that are always evolving."