Source Material: Daft Punk, Discovery
by Philip Sherburne | July 18, 2012
Daft Punk's debut album, Homework, was hardly the first European house record, but it was probably the widest-reaching. Retrofitting the silky pulse of Chicago acid and the swinging thump of New Jersey garage to a robo-disco throb -- and topped off with a creamy layer of pop excess -- the 1997 album reached many listeners around the world (ahem) that had never encountered the French duo's inspirations in their original form, and it helped create a global audience for what were once niche, regional styles. This was studiously underground dance music with an easy-going pop veneer: For anyone not acquainted with dance music's track-y tendencies, the infinite repetitions of "Fresh" and "Superheroes" were essentially avant-garde minimalism with a smiley face on it. (That duality works both ways: For genre purists and stoics, the music's experimental tendencies offered a spoonful of medicine to help all that sugar go down.)
On 2001's Discovery, though, Daft Punk largely broke with their oonce-oonce roots, embracing a far broader range of pop, funk and even progressive rock. Sure, the opening "One More Time," featuring the heavily AutoTuned croon of Chicago vocalist Romanthony, is essentially a pure disco-pop number in the grand tradition of Kool and the Gang, but from there, the album veers far and wide: There's funk rock with a dose of Van Halen ("Aerodynamic"); chiming FM jams in the vein of Steve Miller Band and Alan Parsons Project; and even ambient soft rock modeled after 10cc's "I'm Not in Love" ("Nightvision"). Guitars (electric and acoustic), bass (slap and otherwise), Bruce Dickinson-caliber cowbells and Roger Troutman-esque talk box round out the schizophonic array, piled atop chunky drum breaks, swollen disco loops and fizzy synthesizers.
In charting Discovery's influences, we've emphasized its rock and disco roots more heavily than its house origins, in part because what made the album so striking had little to do with dance music's conventional benchmarks. Explore the album's anything-goes makeup via such unlikely predecessors as Electric Light Orchestra, Todd Rundgren and even Van Halen -- plus, for good measure, Queen's Flash Gordon soundtrack, a wonderful companion piece to Daft Punk's own subsequent Tron: Legacy.
The duo's 2006 pyramid performance at Coachella is widely cited as one of the key moments that paved the way for this decade's harder/better/faster/stronger revival of dance music as a big-tent spectacle, but Discovery deserves just as much credit for showing how dance tropes could be put in the service of pure pop music. The road to "EDM" begins here.