Welcome to Issue 76.1 of Digestable, your thrice-weekly mouthful of real things happening in the world, minus alarmist pandemic news.
Today’s news, fermented:
Today we shall be pretending it is Monday, a great day to harass Wall St CEOs and say hello to these bats.
The Second Look
Half-baked cultural criticism from Gabriel Coleman.
Apparently the editors at Pitchfork have been reading Digestible because last week they decided to take a “Second Look” at some of the scores they gave to albums in the past. You may remember that my first piece for this column was an attempt to redeem Partie Traumatic, the debut album by Black Kids which was panned by Pitchfork with a score of 3.3. Of course Black Kids did not show up in Pitchfork’s rescored reviews which instead included Grimes’s Miss Anthropocene dropping from 8.2-6.9 and Charli XCX’s Vroom Vroom EP jumping from 4.5-7.8 with the admission that their former review was “homophobic.”
The article did its job which was to generate clicks and controversy. The idea that Pitchfork would reassess its previous reviews brings a weird sense of “justice” into their fairly arbitrary brand of music criticism, and folks responded by calling for their own personal faves, from Vespertine to Reputation, to be reevaluated. I’m not here for justice, or actually maybe I am, but I think we need to talk about Daft Punk.
Daft Punk (RIP 1993-2021) appears twice on Pitchfork’s rescored rating, with their last album Random Access Memories dropping from 8.8 to 6.8 and Discovery jumping from a 6.4 to a perfect 10. The reasons given in the article are mostly those of cultural impact, that reviewers couldn’t have foreseen the huge legacy of Discovery tracks like One More Time and Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger and overestimated how profoundly R.A.M. would affect music’s trajectory. This way of ascertaining an album’s value is baloney. Music criticism isn’t some kind of futures market where reviewers attempt to ascertain how an album will chart and impact other artists. A review is about what an album means to you while it's in your ears and your brain. Discovery is built for the dance floor and while singles like Get Lucky had more than their fair share of radio play, Random Access Memories is a much more arty and experimental project so to assess them on the same narrow criteria of broad cultural impact is dumb.
But I’m not here for R.A.M. or Discovery goddammit I want justice for Human After All, the album between these other two that received a damning 4.9 on the Pitchfork-essential-score-of-tabulated-zeitgiestiness. Human After All is in many ways a foil to Discovery. Where Discovery finds fascination and wonder in the repetition of One More Time, Human After All is brooding and anxious about the mechanical thud of its Robot Rock. Where Discovery’s music was accompanied by the bright animated sci-fi film Interstella 5555, the video for the single Technologic features the animatronic from the Child’s Play franchise, stripped to its metal bones and teeth reciting the lyrics. For reviewers expecting another shiny happy Daft Punk dance party, Human After All was a shock to the system. Not only that, but Daft Punk completed the album in a 6 week sprint of writing and recording which reviewers largely took as laziness rather than inspiration.
But for me there’s no denying that Human After All is an iconic piece of music. The album is Daft Punk’s most cohesive release, with the electric guitar and distorted vocal “yeahs” that carry across its tracks giving it the feeling of a continuous mix. The android anxiety of Human After All comes across so poignantly for me, feeling the tension and the ache of tracks like Emotion carried through a repetitive four note bass line and the breathy artificial “yeah” in the background and the manic rush of Prime Time of Your Life’s accelerando. This album seems to me where Daft Punk really defined their larger rhetorical project of questioning the divide between the artificial and organic, human and robot. Human After All lends this theme, and many of its tracks, to Daft Punk’s unforgettable live album Alive 2007, their film Electroma, and their later projects in the Tron soundtrack and Random Access Memories. You can see echoes of Human After All in Robyn/Royksopp’s Do It Again, Dorian Electra’s Vibrator, Kim Petras’s Turn Off The Light, and Rina Sawayama’s metal orchestrations just to name a few. So why are these critics still hating?
I think it’s because it’s just not cool to like Daft Punk. My friend Joseph and I were talking about how it’s gauche to call Wes Anderson your favorite director because, in Joseph’s words, he’s “the most director.” Likewise Daft Punk are the most DJs. Everyone takes inspiration from Daft Punk which means that you can’t say you’re inspired by Daft Punk because it's unoriginal. But come on! Even the faux-anonymous helmeted personas of Marshmello and deadmau5 are shorthand for “cool DJ” because of Daft Punk’s Alive sets.
Pitchfork acknowledges that Discovery’s original 6.4 rating was deflated in an attempt to rise above the hype, and for the duo to come out with another iconic and completely different album after only 6 weeks of work only triggered a stronger critical backlash. Pitchfork evidently hasn’t evolved past this, now Discovery is the “cool” album, the perfect 10, but Random Access Memories was supposedly overhyped, even by reviewer-supreme Mark Richardson who wrote the album’s original 8.8 review. But who cares about the number or the hype! Don’t listen to Pitchfork, listen to music and come to your own conclusions.