Illustrations by Ben Ruby
Daft Punk's ambitions have never really changed—only their methods. From their early experiments in bone-rattling techno to their recent forays into maximalist pop, all of the duo's musical phases are simply new fronts in their war on time itself. The robot shtick gives the game away. Transforming themselves into immortal creatures, they express themselves through gleaming, chromed-out, formally perfect pop songs built to endure the decay of flesh. They apply Dr. Frankenstein's approach to the past, re-animating forgotten samples and saving their collaborators from the brink of obscurity. In their world, nothing has to age—and if it does, you just bring it back.
Daft Punk carve out the fragmentary hearts of old songs, preserving their essence in digital amber. The same themes occur over and over; Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo are drawn like moths to the flames of romance, youth, and parties—emotional and physical settings where time melts away. People play their hits at weddings, bar mitzvahs, and graduation parties because they want to remember those moments forever, and the songs feel timeless enough to last that long. In an era where chaos reigns, Daft Punk provide stability.
So as the world crumbles around us, we build fortresses in our mind. Which is to say, here at THUMP, we've decided to rank every Daft Punk song because arbitrary lists are the only things that make sense anymore. We included all five studio albums (including the Tron soundtrack), as well as numerous remixes, B-sides, and songs they've produced for artists like Kanye West—though if there were multiple versions of the same track, we only chose the best one. Some are all-time classics; some, not so much. All told, the catalogue includes 102 tracks comprising an artistic vision as distinct as the duo's silhouettes on that iconic Coachella billboard. More than anything, it's a reminder that the golden robots will always be there, spinning our favorite memories back to us one more time.—Ezra Marcus
It's hard to overstate how much of a letdown Human After All was for Daft Punk fans—their first two records, stuffed with brilliant samples and impeccable sequencing, felt as deeply researched and cared for as zen rock gardens. Human After All—famously recorded in two weeks—sometimes doesn't sound as if they'd even listened all the way through. Case in point—"Television Rules the Nation." The only thing more ham-handed than this song's gurgling fart of a bass line is the woke-ass vocal sample—it's the track title repeated ad nauseum, as if you're being assaulted by a lunatic wielding a Banksy poster. French touch meets the Flobots, with more than a hint of Meatloaf.—Ezra Marcus
101. "Encom Part I"
99. "The Brainwasher"
98. "Round One"
97. "Disc Wars"
96. "Sunrise Prelude"
92. "Adagio for Tron"
91. "Encom Part III"
90. "Sea of Simulation"
Daft Punk's dewy-eyed nostalgia is part of what's made the duo's tracks so heartwarming over the years—especially on their aptly titled meditation on reminiscence, Random Access Memories. But allowing Giorgio Moroder to wax rhapsodic for minutes at a time on the track that bears his name is more like listening to a distant relative's war stories than the disco biography the group likely intended. The retrofuturist instrumental moments are better—particularly the interstellar bass solo around the track's midpoint—and a reminder that history lessons aren't always best delivered as lectures.—Colin Joyce
87. "Funk Ad"
83. "Steam Machine"
80. "Flynn Lives"
Rumors abound that this minimally manipulated track was a goof at the expense of Franz Ferdinand's thirst for a remix from the robots, but the static scratching Daft Punk tacks on actually does add a bit of necessary edge to this blunt iPod commercial staple. Prank or no, the band seem to have dug it. In 2013, Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos had this to say of the rework's near-identical structure to the original: "I guess it was a bit of a nod from the Daft Punk guys to say: 'Ach, you got it more or less right.'" Sure, yes, that's it.—Colin Joyce
76. "The Prime Time"
73. "Tron Legacy (End Titles)"
72. "Solar Sailor"
71. "End of Line"
70. "Indo Silver Club (Part 1)"
Looking back, Daft Punk and Tron seem like a fated match. The former are a pair of faceless androids whose humanity is only evident through their music; the other is a fictional world in which computerized avatars turn out to be real people, or at least something close to that. What brings the two entities together is electricity—in the case of the robots, it's found in an album of pulsating synths that course through your veins. In the film, power is expressed through an electrified grid where sad saps battle it out to the death, or eventual glory (or both). Or maybe their common ground was just cool-looking lights.—David Garber
66. "The Son of Flynn"
65. "The Game of Love"
63. "The Game Has Changed"
62. "Indo Silver Club (Part 2)"
61. "I:Cube - Disco Cubizm (Daft Punk Mix)"
60. "Human After All"
59. "The Micronauts - Get Funky Get Down (Daft Punk Remix)"
A chunky, self-consciously "Real Instruments, Bro" funk groove with lush details—you could almost eat that confectionary guitar riff—brought down slightly by an aggressively average Pharrell vocal. Sounds like something you might casually Shazam if you heard it on Sephora's in-store playlist.—Ezra Marcus
57. "Night Vision"
56." WDPK 83.7 FM"
55. "Short Circuit"
54. "Aerodynamic (Daft Punk Remix)"
52. "Fragments of Time"
51. Kanye West, "I Am a God" (prod. Daft Punk)
The Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk were two of the first electronic bands I got into when I was 18. Exit Planet Dust became my stoner album. I listened to it religiously while smoking and writing by myself. Later, when I was 23, I accidentally discovered this remix for "Life Is Sweet" while making a DJ mix for a friend's birthday party. I loved how Daft Punk kept the guitar parts from the original, but turned the rest of the song into more of a jacked-up electro-house track. It felt right at home with Le Knight Club, Felix Da Housecat, Sebastien Tellier, and some other obscure French house tracks I put on the mix. The remix went over well at the party, but it wasn't the last Daft Punk song I'd hear that night. Someone else put on a really shitty remix of "One More Time," and it nearly killed the whole night and turned me off the song forever.—Max Mohenu
Long before Siri and Spike Jonze's Her, there was "Technologic," the second single from Human After All and a lockstep ode to digital commands. Even though it was lamented by some as a poor man's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," the song further emphasized the duo's ability to use the power of repetition to hypnotic effect (the word "it" occurs 350 times here), and the accompanying music video stars an appropriately unnerving android. While it received official remixes from heavy-hitters like Basement Jaxx, Peaches, and Vitalic, the definitive version remains the one that appears on the duo's 2007 live album, which combines elements from the track and Busta Rhymes' raunchy, not-so-subtle "Technologic" flip, "Touch It."—Max Mertens
After providing a mix for a 2008 Louis Vuitton runway show, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Man de Homem-Christo were shot in custom-designed stage wear by Hedi Slimane for a Saint Laurent campaign, and commissioned to do the soundtrack for a 2013 show. Instead of using their own songs, the duo ended up turning out a smoky, 15-minute edit of legendary Mississippi bluesman Junior Kimbrough's "I Gotta Try You Girl." It remains one of the most intriguing outliers in their discography, and raised the bar for future collaborations between fashion houses and electronic artists. The rework was even finally given the Record Store Day limited edition vinyl treatment this year, which is a way better investment than spending your hard-earned dollars on, say, a fucking Star Wars picture disc.—Max Mertens
I'll never forget hearing this track in my senior year college bedroom for the first time. While on a hike—smoking a joint in the woods—with some friends one afternoon, we caught a whiff of the long-awaited Random Access Memories. After listening to the full version of "Get Lucky" while dancing around like stoned idiots, we ran back to the car and headed back to campus.
I made a beeline for my room, plugged my iPhone into my speakers, and hit play on the first track of the album that would soon change everyone's life (or, at the very least, their year). Like the grooviest welcome mat I'd ever heard, a seductive wash of instrumentation took me over before Nile Rodgers' cheerful guitar line invaded my innards, and a robot voice entered the room. "Let the music in unite, just turn on the music," it said. They had me from the first note; I still get chills thinking about it.—David Garber
As immortalized in their early nod to DJ lore, "Teachers," Daft Punk have always had a soft spot for the American house and techno legends that helped pave the way for their careers. While Scott Grooves doesn't actually receive a shoutout on the aforementioned track, the robots had a chance to throw a French-touch spin on the Detroit legend's collaboration with Parliament off his classic 1998 album, Pieces of a Dream. It's possible that the remix came to fruition as a result of both artists being signed to the iconic Scottish label Soma—which also famously released the duo's seminal hit, "Da Funk"—but Daft Punk's loving take on the track seems like more than a label favor; it's the sort of fuzzy, friendly rework they'd only ever give to one of their heroes.—David Garber
Nestled among the more anonymous and abstract pieces that make up the Tron: Legacy score is this gleaming bit of film-grade neon. A granular distorted synthesizer loop kicks off this stuttering, synesthetic electro cut, which rolls with its throttle wide open through a brief minute and 44 seconds. Like the film it soundtracks, it's full of the freewheeling panic of playing an arcade cabinet you'll never quite master—the kill screen coming ages before you expect it.—Colin Joyce
For many years, I thought the lyrics throughout this slice of euphoric triumphalism were, "Gungans in the air"—a reference to the Jar Jar Binks species in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. I must admit, believing the song to be a sort of military rally-cry for a race of man-sized space amphibians has only ever enhanced it in my eyes. Fair to say this isn't the most nuanced or emotionally arresting thing Daft Punk have produced, but there's an unabashed joy to be had when they enter the realms of pure maximalism.—Angus Harrison
Created in 1994 but still not officially released, "Drive" is a strange look for the robots. The repetitive vocal sample of the word "drive" and the heart-pounding rhythm feel of a piece with their debut single "The New Wave," which they recorded around the same time. But those looking for early flashes of brilliance in cast-off studio sessions would be advised to look elsewhere. "Drive" is something else altogether, an austere take on bone-dry techno from a duo that would become known for their efforts to breathe life back into music's more synthetic corners. The track is Daft Punk at their rawest—whether or not that's a good thing is up to you.—Britt Julious
"Alive"'s long evolution is part of what makes it so endearing. It was born in zygotic form as the duo's debut single "The New Wave" in 1994, then later mutated into the gleefully mechanistic version that's on Homework, before becoming the adamantium backbone of so many of their live shows over the years (and even lending its name to their iconic live record). Here, many of the group's more interesting sonic elements shine: echoing synths, rumbling rhythms, and a dark, almost foreboding tone that sounds rooted in the android iconography that would come to define the duo. But its brilliance lies, not in those machinations, but in its nature as a living document, a slowly shifting piece that could always adapt, and would never die.—Britt Julious
Like all of house music's greats, Daft Punk are capable of making an instrumental eternity feel like an instant—but the genius of "Daftendirekt," which appears on first listen to be one of Homework's minor tracks, is that it somehow manages to do the opposite. With a creeping filter sweep across a single sampled line of vocals—something to the effect of "C'mon the funk back to the punk," but left deliberately ambiguous—they stretch a single sample into an epic. It was the first track on their first album, and a common intro for their live shows in the era. As such, its time-stretching effect feels auspicious: a giddy suggestion of the shape of Daft Punk to come.—Colin Joyce
The title of "Burnin'" might imply a mighty sonic inferno, but Daft Punk's tribute to conflagration is content to cruise along. It's surprisingly comforting and bubbly, with zapping laser sounds providing most of the sparks. The only real escalation is the blare of a fire truck siren, although that sample is quickly consumed by the synths, without much fanfare. "Burnin'" is less of a wildfire and more of a hearth, illuminating and warming a disco rather than destroying it.—James Grebey
Many have tried their hand at massaging the Purple One's alien R&B transmissions into more club-friendly shapes, but none but Daft Punk had "Da Funk." The duo's edit of "Kiss"—never officially released but floating around on various bootleg comps, its original provenance unclear—adds just that, incorporating the blistered lead line and leaden low end from their 1995 single to ballast some of the original's interstellar lift. It almost feels like cheating to send a classic pop song and one of your own biggest hits on a collision course, but few remixes have ever felt this weighty—like a monolith slammed down in the middle of the dancefloor.—Colin Joyce
As with any song that emerges from Kanye West's secretive and highly collaborative studio process, it's difficult to tell where any particular artist's creative input ends and another's begins. Still, it's hard not to credit Daft Punk with the galloping pace and punishing drums of this Yeezus standout. "Black Skinhead" features some of Kanye's sharpest, most political lyrics ever, so it makes sense that he'd choose two producers as passionate, possessed, and obsessive about music as he is to bring them to life.—Ezra Marcus
The star of "High Fidelity" is the fucked up sax riff that punctuates the song's otherwise smoky vibe. The warped sample of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" is transformed from an 80s standard into mysterious glitched out techno-noir. The harsh loop gives everything around it a paranoid, sinister feel, and the confident, thumping beat underneath won't stop.—James Grebey
The beginning of Daft Punk's reinvention of Gabrielle's dreamy R&B track is evolution in action. It starts with a screaming horde of children before eventually giving way to warped voices, each urging the listener to "forget about the world," like a cybernetic auditory hallucination. Though one of those repetitive voices seems to win out in the end, it's briefly waylaid by an unstoppable beat. It's still there, though, like a hard-to-forget voice lingering somewhere in the back of your head.—James Grebey
Ian Pooley, bless him, has one of those unshakably humdrum names that always makes you associate said person with dismal Tuesdays in November. Ian Pooley is the name of a local plumber or a lower league left-back or a failed restaurant owner or a bloke you see in the local paper because his winning lottery ticket turned out to be fake. This gloriously squelchy remix makes you forget about all that. For a few minutes, "Ian Pooley" is the name God's chosen to disguise himself on Earth, and Daft Punk are his anointed messengers.—Josh Baines
Okay, there are a myriad of approaches here. You can fight it, go on the defensive, make disparaging claims about "Get Lucky" being a rehash of every Chic song ever written, and describe Random Access Memories as nothing more than the bloated experiment of two overfunded Studio 54-fetishists. Or you can go full post-ironic, and wax lyrical about the song being one of the true pop behemoths of the 21st century—a pristine, precise thing of undeniable groove and beauty. Or you can go full funnyman and pretend you've never heard of it.
Whichever way you look at it, since its arrival in 2013, "Get Lucky" has caused more of a stir than many pieces of music are likely to in our lifetime. From the Coachella trailer, to the Grammys performance featuring Stevie Wonder, the song has cemented itself as an immovable object on the landscape of 21st century pop culture, one that will be celebrated at wedding receptions across the world for time immemorial.—Angus Harrison
From the slow, bouncing bass line to the synth that warbles like a circling songbird, "Emotion" pulsates with an uplifting lackadaisical energy that's easy to get lost in. There's a little more insistence, drive, and purpose as the track goes on, slowly building in volume if not tempo—like a lazy hike in the woods that takes on renewed purpose when you think there's something lurking behind you. As the song climaxes, though, it's all joy, that release of tension you experience when you realize that ominous rustling was just, say, a rabbit in the underbrush.—Meilyn Huq
Daft Punk are nothing if not self-aware. Even when making functional, floor-filling filter house in their earlier days, they'd give things a little bit of a tweak on the nose. Take this head-bobbing B-side to their immortal 1995 single "Da Funk," for example—a more anonymous but no less endearing take on the retro-futurist sound they'd come to own over the next decade. Its purpose is clear: keep bodies moving. Its title cuts straight to the point: "Musique." Nothing more, nothing less.—Colin Joyce
Oh yeah, what? Sure, the synth-children that Daft Punk rounded up for this Homework cut are excited, if a little monotone. But it's not clear why, exactly, they're so psyched. Plus, the off-kilter, wonky beats and static-laden "error" sounds don't quite seem to match their lyrical enthusiasm. Perhaps it's because "Oh Yeah" is just a breather. Screaming to the dance is tiring work, but it's important to power through a lull in order to keep a party going till dawn.—James Grebey
If there was one thing I wish music made me feel more often, it's embarrassment. Genuine, skin-crawling, catching-your-dad-wanking embarrassment. The kind of embarrassment that seeps into every fiber of your being, and never leaves. That kind of embarrassment is the embarrassment I feel every time I come into contact with "Touch," a song that's so monumentally terrible on every level that it becomes car-crash-transfixing. It is a piece of art that no one asked for, no one needed, and no one particularly wanted. But nearly three and a half years after the first time it made me feel sick to my stomach, it's still lodged in my internal jukebox, and every time it hovers into hearing, I am reminded of the potent power of total and utter sincerity.—Josh Baines
Even a band as capable of generating universally beloved hits as Daft Punk has to take some time to experiment a bit. "Fresh," which first appeared on the duo's debut album Homework, begins with the sound of ocean waves crashing on the shore. A guitar slowly pierces through the steady sounds of the water, before a sleepy synth and distant house beat flow in. It's a gorgeous and breezy wonder, better suited to the end of the night than the peak dance floor moments that have come to define the group's output. The group hasn't released much like it since, which is part of what makes it still feel so, well, fresh.—Britt Julious
Daft Punk came up with this cyberpunk echo of "Fight for Your Right (to Party)" in response to the French government's misguided attempts to crack down on rave culture in the late 90s. Joke's on the feds though, because persecution so often leads to great art. Chattering voices and emergency sirens at the beginning of the song transition seamlessly into a steady, adrenaline-addled pulse that barrels along regardless of any consequences. It's a frenzied heartbeat, because you're doing something wrong for all the right reasons. And, yes, maybe you're on drugs, too, but that's not really the point.—James Grebey
Released before either member of the duo would've been old enough to drink in the States, Daft Punk's debut single "The New Wave" is something of an outlier in their kaleidoscopic catalog. Built around a pummeling kick drum and a few acid belches, the 7-minute full version is a night drive through techno's desolate monochromatic landscapes, a broken-headlights exploration of the unknown industrial areas surrounding dance music. There's still the lead-footed momentum of their later works, but "The New Wave" is wonderfully sparse—the rare release in their catalog that follows through on their conceptual promise of metal machine music.—Colin Joyce
An odd duck among Random Access Memories' more organic outings, the synthetic ecstasy of "Doin' It Right" is a grown-up version of Daft Punk's earlier exhortations to lose yourself to dance. But where many Homework cuts seem caught up in the euphoric moment, "Doin' It Right" offers a melancholy hopefulness. The vocoder loop of Panda Bear's vocals projects a feeling of cautious expectation—the promise that this night could...might...will be perfect —while his chorus reveals an uncharacteristically raw, human side to Daft Punk's robotics. It's not all gloom, though, because there is still a chance that the magic will work. This track just implicitly acknowledges the bittersweet possibility that it won't.—James Grebey
It wouldn't be until 2005's "Robot Rock" that the duo would fully indulge their fondness for guitar-slinging sleaziness, but this Homework cut was an early tribute to the stadium dynamism that all your favorite rock bros perfected first. The stuttery sample midway through may sound more like musique concrète, but the slow build toward euphoria is straight out of a Jimmy Page solo, a slow tease brought to a shuddering zenith by the continuous thunder of a sampled drum kit. It's not one of their pop hits, but the way they were able to borrow from different genres and forms and apply those lessons in unexpected ways perhaps demonstrates why they had those hits in the first place.—Colin Joyce
"Aerodynamite"—a glimmering rework of Discovery's "Aerodynamic"—foreshadows the disco-indebted luxury that a later generation of electro acts would transmute into outright opulence. But despite their occasional populism, Daft Punk have always practiced admirable restraint, ballasting the grandeur of the original with a sinister earthiness in the main motif. That feeling becomes more intense as the track moves forward, suggesting a black cloud behind the silver-lined cumulus that the track opens with—a suggestion that the kingliness of "Aerodynamite" is mere fantasy, an extension of the dancefloor's escapist power.—Oliver Kinkel
Human After All is a deeply flawed album, but this weird little jewel offers a touch of joy amid the half-baked bombast. The delicate Durutti Column-esque guitar riff wraps you casually around its little finger, while muted drums and a gossamer thread of vocals transport you to a perfumed garden. Enjoy your vacation while it lasts, though—next on the record comes the soul-sucking churn of "The Brainwasher."—Ezra Marcus
"Veridis Quo" is a strange moment on Discovery. Nestled in a sea of otherwise cinematic displays, the threaded organs make for a deliberately gentle, almost pastoral, touch. As they gently intertwine, we're reminded of Daft Punk's capacity for pathos. This is the breath of oxygen punctuating the outstretched magical blanket that makes up the rest of the record. But just as you're about to take the track too seriously, you realize that the Latin-sounding title is in fact a sneaky rejigging of the words "very disco." Turns out, they've got a sense of humor, too.—Angus Harrison
Tucked near the end of Homework, this subtle gem is often overshadowed by that record's more flamboyant numbers. It's more of a tool than a show-stopping highlight, but don't let its charms escape you—played on the right dancefloor by the right DJ, it literally makes time disappear. When it's over, you'll emerge from your reverie drenched in sweat, with lipstick on your collar, someone else's cigarette in your mouth, and a crystalline memory already fading from your mind.—Ezra Marcus
"High Life" isn't one of Discovery's standout singles, but its humble three and a half minutes do function as a distillation of all the things the duo did well in that era. Like so much of their best work, it's a body-jacking tune, equal parts sexy and peculiar. Centered on an obscure funk sample (Tavares' "Break Down for Love"), it manages to make even its more human components sound warped, the warm vocals and revved-up garage house beats pushing the song just across the border of the uncanny valley.—Britt Julious
The song starts off sounding like a corny Six Flags commercial, but as the groove loops—barely changing at all over four minutes—it descends into something like madness. The crowd voices keep chanting, the acid synths keep bubbling, the horns keep blaring, and you start to feel like the rollercoaster ride might not have any brakes. The only thing to do is keep dancing and hold on for life.—Ezra Marcus
On June 3, 2016, I was at Randall's Island Park in New York City when Kanye West debuted a quarter of the songs that would make up his sixth studio album, Yeezus. Though the Governors Ball Music Festival had been rained out two days earlier, turning the field into a muddy quagmire for the rest of the weekend, the anticipation in the crowd was electrifying. Half an hour late, he opened with the frenzied one-two punch of "Black Skinhead" and "New Slaves"—both of which he had performed on Saturday Night Live a few weeks earlier—before later playing another Daft Punk-assisted cut, "On Sight," which also enlisted the services of Mike Dean and Benji B.
The track's snarling, buzz-saw synths that grab the listener's attention from the get-go. They don't relent until the 1:16 mark, when the soulful chorus from the Holy Name of Mary Choral Family's rendition of "He'll Give Us What We Really Need" provides a brief reprieve from its confrontational pace. West took some heat from Parkinson's advocacy groups for that line, but "On Sight" feels like a heat-seeking missile headed straight to the critics who thought he was incapable of still provoking with his music. Blame Daft Punk for that one, at least in part.—Max Mertens
Here follows the definitive list of the best things the French ever gave us: Jean Paul Belmondo smoking, the croque monsieur, and filter house. But what—musically speaking at least—could be better than hearing a fragment of a record, looped and EQ'd to an inch of its life, atop a massive, lumbering kickdrum? Fuck all. Take that, add Romanthony, and stretch it out for exactly 10 minutes, et voilà, you've got yourself one of the most underrated songs of the century to date.—Josh Baines
As Discovery comes to a close, "Face To Face" hits you right in the gut with pure sass. Short and sweet, it's more of a traditional pop song than the marathon disco fantasias that appear elsewhere on this record. Sampling some glitzy guitar riffing from Electric Light Orchestra's "Evil Woman" and featuring vocals from producer Todd Edwards, the song is a punchy closing act that prizes delicate economy in the midst of 70s-aping excess—and a reminder that ecstasy still works in moderation.—Meilyn Huq
Head down. Focus. Prepare for what's to come. If Discovery is a hero's journey, "Voyager" is a key moment in the denouement. Straight-razor guitar riffing, dramatic 80s synths, and funky bassline propel the song upwards to the heavens, where they encounter billowing, harp-like synths. The stretch toward the sky never quite reaches its goal, but the beauty is in the repetition. Dust off. Try again.—Oliver Kinkel
Daft Punk released their first single, "New Wave," in 1994. In the years since, they've tended to luxuriate, offering sleepy synth runs and brittle disco that appears to be moving in slow-motion even at dancefloor tempos. But on "Assault," the flip side of "New Wave," you catch a rare glimpse of the duo moving at high speed. As its name promises, "Assault" is a relentless barrage of acid-indebted clatters and squelches, just a BPM or two behind Aphex Twin's contemporaneous analog experiments as AFX. An alternate timeline could've seen the duo follow this path toward unhinged machine-malfunctioning ecstasy, but they never really did—guess those robots were just engineered too well.—Colin Joyce
"Horrible. They should just retire already."
"I have no idea who is actually under those helmets, but the real Daft Punk died years ago."
The backlash against Daft Punk's 2016 collaboration with The Weeknd, encapsulated in the comments on this Resident Advisor news piece from September, is hardly surprising. "Starboy" is a frontal assault on Daft Punk's storied dance music lineage—a snotty millennial banger better suited to Snapchat stories than Essential Mixes. Many saw the collaboration as a naked cash grab, but "Starboy" is a leap beyond both sides' previous forays into 80s dance-funk.
Gone is the tepid live instrumentation that bogged down Daft Punk's collaborations with Pharrell. Instead, they strip the beat down to elegiac keys, incandescent synths, and a razor-wire drum loop—their simplest, sharpest production work since contributing militant percussion to Yeezus. "Starboy" succeeds by cultivating tension between gloss and grit. The steel-tipped drums bristle against the warm synths and keys, while the song's sexy, restrained groove sends The Weeknd into savage mode overdrive. Tapping into a vein of bratty bravado, he careens past toothless PG-13 peacocking into the kind of unrepentant sleaze that made him successful in the first place, culminating in a breathtaking stretch on the bridge where he sneers about fucking your girl, guzzling cocaine, and buying his mom a station wagon all in the same breath. Its nasty, dumb, gorgeous, and so 2016 it hurts.—Ezra Marcus
If Daft Punk ever made a jock jam, this is it. "Phoenix" begins with a simple four-on-the-floor beat, then gradually adds cheerful syncopation. An angelic hook exudes positive energy in ribbons, and is complimented by a deep but joyful bassline. Daft Punk isn't overly ambitious here—they're just having fun, and better than anyone else at it.—Oliver Kinkel
It's clear that Daft Punk know their music history, but never was it more explicit than on "Teachers," the Homework track that plays like the optimist's version of LCD Soundsystem's "Losing My Edge." A pitch-warped voice paying tribute to all of the duo's inspirations ("Paul Johnson, DJ Funk, DJ Sneak, DJ Rush, Wax Master, Hyperactive, Jammin Gerald, Brian Wilson...") puts Daft Punk in context of a long history of dancefloor-fillers before them. A muted disco instrumental both elevates and provides grounding for this unhinged history lesson. Think of it as Schoolhouse Rock to "Giorgio By Moroder"'s History Channel documentary.—Colin Joyce
Unlike many of their dance music peers, Daft Punk understood there could be a clear connection between the joy of the dancefloor and the frenetic energy of the mosh pit. "Robot Rock," the first single from the group's 2005 album Human After All, sounded miles away from the 80s funk and house throwbacks that defined the duo's earlier releases, instead offering a sort of Jock Jams nod to the rock world.
"Robot Rock" never lets up, starting with an abrasive wave of percussion and hair metal power chords. In retrospect, the track's stadium-sized energy also makes it a proto-EDM wonder, a dynamic blueprint for the genre's head-bobbing, fist-pumping bass drops and repetitive structures. The French duo likely had no idea their quirky, standout single would go on to influence a new generation of dance music fans.—Britt Julious
It's no surprise that this 2011 track, one of the duo's best-selling singles, went on to win a Grammy—even if it took eight years and the release of a live version for them to achieve that feat. What is surprising, however, is how urgent and eminently danceable the record still sounds to this day. It's here that Daft Punk exercise the vocoder most effectively—literally playing the human voice like an electric guitar—while breaking with the largely euphoric tone of the rest of the album.
It's a testament to the quality of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" that the chart-smashing "Stronger" by Kanye West has done next to nothing to erase the legacy of the original sample. In fact, the Chi-town rapper's bombastic rewiring of the source material simply served to highlight the majestic, mechanical grooves of one of Daft Punk's greatest achievements: making technology sing.—Angus Harrison
In a 2001 interview about Discovery, Thomas Bangalter observed, "A lot of house music today just uses samples from disco records of the 70s and 80s ... We decided to go further and bring in all the elements of music that we liked as children, whether it's disco, electro, heavy metal, rock, or classical."
Nowhere does that spirit of cross-genre experimentation shine harder than on "Aerodynamic," possibly Daft Punk's best ever use of dynamic rock guitar via a heavily manipulated sample from Sister Sledge's "Il Macquilage Lady," no less. You can trace the entire careers of Justice, SebastiAn, and other Ed Banger guitar-smashers back to this unhinged yelp of joie de vivre. It's the musical equivalent of a perfectly executed crotch grab in rhinestone-encrusted skinny jeans. —Ezra Marcus
Few things in life are as satisfying as perfectly executed minimalism. From Carl Andre's checkerboard sculptures to Jean-Pierre Melville's stripped-down noir films, Frederick Barthelme's barely-there fiction to the total hypnosis of Steve Reich at his most taut and trippy, everyone finds some kind of joy in simplicity. Perhaps this is why "Around the World" is arguably the duo's best-known song. Sure, the Michel Gondry-directed video helped, but the record's relentless repetition of its title phrase is why everyone from your three-year-old sister to your 80-year-old grandad knows and loves it. And hey, it's slightly easier to dance to at parties than "In C" by Terry Riley, right?—Josh Baines
There's something marvelous about picturing Daft Punk holed up in the studio with Julian Casablancas a decade and change past his heyday, somehow squeezing one last perfect, golden hook out of him like Moses drawing water from the rock. It's that famous Daft Punk magic working miracles, baby.—Ezra Marcus
Why do the things we know are bad for us often feel so good? It's a conundrum that Thomas and Guy-Man explore on a song about giving into temptation, with its lyrics about love and uncertainty driven by some of the breeziest melodies to ever grace their discography. It's fitting that the track is one of the shorter entries on Discovery. Like many of the things in life that we know we should stay away from, sometimes we just can't help but want even more.—David Garber
The glorious gutter scum that is "Da Funk" was the result of Daft Punk spending weeks immersed in the cannabinoid low-rider haze of G-Funk. Thomas Bangalter complained when critics at the time overlooked this context, instead likening the tsunami thwack of the drums to those of classic rock's greats, the sequencer lightning flashes to Giorgio Moroder's disco, and the whipping dust clouds of their 303 lines to 80s electro. But the joy of "Da Funk" is that it cannot be reduced to a single genre; instead, it borrows ecstatic elements from all of them. The robot's' 1995 incarnation is a product less of science than alchemy—tin men transmuted to rose gold.—Colin Joyce
"Rollin' and Scratchin" makes you want to rip off all your clothes and claw at the bugs crawling under your skin. It's like having a panic attack in a straightjacket. Each claustrophobic Roland Juno-106 squeal feels like a shot of adrenaline to the carotid artery that could bring a corpse back from the dead. This is a song people often hold up as an example of Daft Punk at their merciless peak before they went soft, and they've got a point—it's one of the hardest tracks ever recorded in any genre, full stop.—Ezra Marcus
I've always liked to believe that Daft Punk's most groundbreaking album is a nod to the simple joy of being a kid. Sure, Discovery is littered with anthems for the club, where no little ones would be allowed. But the album also shed its predecessor's nod to harder electronics for a joyride in pop-dance bliss. With its playful guitar strumming and sun-soaked disco sheen, Digital Love" feels reminiscent of that final school bell ringing, summer officially in the air.
Like a few of my favorite cuts off Discovery, "Digital Love" is also a good old-fashioned bittersweet love song. Its lyrics, surprisingly penned by famed grump DJ Sneak, wistfully recall a blissful past ("There's nothing wrong with just a little, little fun/ We were dancing all night long") before a sober awakening (Suddenly, I feel the shining sun/Before I know, this dream is all gone").
Anyone who's been a starry-eyed adolescent knows how fragile young love can be—how quickly the good can turn bad, and vice versa. Perhaps the robots were telling us that even in a digital world where nothing's real, only the elusiveness of true love stays the same.—David Garber
To understand why "One More Time" is a genuinely important song, you've first got to understand what makes Discovery such an epochal record, and not just an album you've probably puked to after a particularly heavy afternoon in a beer garden.
Discovery, which slipped into the world nearly fifteen years ago now, is a spotty, disjointed, slightly unsuccessful album that never really hangs together. Heard in the dismal daylight of late 2016, it is actually sort of front-loaded. It occasionally drifts into a damp nothingness, punctuated by the kitsch ("Crescendolls") and the saccharine ("Something About Us") before rounding things off with the still-incredible one-two punch of "Face to Face" and "Too Long."
The thing is, even without that closing salvo, Discovery would still be held in the kind of esteem that brings poor old Random Access Memories out in a jealous rash, because that opening quartet—"One More Time," "Aerodynamic," "Digital Love," "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger"—is still, despite the hype and continued use in pretty much every TV show ever made, utterly fucking extraordinary. The other three songs have been covered above, so let's focus our attention on one of the greatest first tracks on any album ever made—"One More Time."
Just a few weeks ago, THUMP UK contributor Tom Glencross, citing how the song sampled "More Spell on You" by Eddie Johns, referred to "One More Time" as "the Daft Punk spirit incarnate" and "a rediscovery of the old, made new." That's one of the reasons why it's still such an absurdly, dramatically powerful record when deployed at the perfect moment.
There are others, of course—Romanthony's powerhouse vocal, the sublime use of space and near-silence, that ferocious, unceasing brass-blast that powers the whole thing into its gargantuan being. But the key thing about "One More Time" is that it turned Daft Punk from being "those two French blokes with the funny videos" into what felt like the most important thing in electronic music in the early half of the millennium. Whether heard in a high street nightclub or high up above the clouds, it was–and still is—an inescapable ode to joy.
"One More Time" was when Daft Punk became the robots. And the robots became our saviors. Even if they went on to show us all they were human after all.—Josh Baines