Breakwater - "Release The Beast" (Discovered: A Collection of Daft Funk Samples)
Hardcore Daft Punk fans (and, boy, do they exist) have greeted this collection with a certain suspicion. It follows a YouTube montage of the French disco producers’ source material, explained with some mild accusations of unoriginality. Hardly an analogue to the Quentin Tarantio hit-piece Who Do You Think You’re Fooling? (if equally clueless, in its way), that clip nevertheless put Daft Punk buffs on the defensive. While they’ve been reluctant to defend crate-digging as the dominant mode of artistic and cultural expression that it’s become (which is an old and boring argument by now), a few have taken this mix tape’s release as an attack on their heroes’ alchemic genius, and expressed some hostility toward the Punk’s colorful Lego bricks themselves. I mean, “Music Sounds Better With You” is a fucking brilliant song, and Sister Sledge was not all that, and you really should’ve been around when we had real MDMA...
While the MOR goo of George Duke’s “I Love You More” is an entirely different experience from DP’s Pixie-Stick-in-the-ear “Digital Love,” beholding these disco and hustle anthems in their original incarnations can only be edifying. It’s hardly something Daft Punk, Kanye West, or any other right-thinking recontextualist would discourage. Most DJs love nothing more than showing off their collections, and how is a collector-dork with groupies supposed to be apologetic?
If anything, these 12 lite-funk jams reveal Daft Punk as a pair of superfans both smart and lucky. Only once does DP get crushed, and it’s right at the outset; Breakwater’s outsized stadium-rocker “Release the Beast” makes the rote cannibalization of “Robot Rock” sound like something that would offend Sean Combs. Sometimes, it’s a stalemate. Tata Vega’s “Get It Up For Love” lacks the menacing depth of DP’s breakthrough hit “Da Funk,” but its horny optimism makes it seem odd how cold and distant club music would become. It would be hard to find anything this un-self-conscious outside of a reissue, and it’ll certainly never happen on a Daft Punk record. But you’d never hear anything as vapid and cynical as Little Anthony and the Imperials’ disco-era cash-in “Can You Imagine,” either. Such are the joys and hazards of the ego-death that Daft Punk’s music symbolizes, or almost symbolizes.
Elsewhere, the surreal synth vamping always makes DP’s creations seem a tad less otherworldly than they would to the uninformed. There's not a lot of difference between "creating" weird pop art and just living it well, but there's little doubt which side Daft Punk ultimately occupies. Still, it’s easy to admire the duo’s skill at isolating a fleeting riff and stretching it into something hypnotic and inhuman. There’s a lot more to Edwin Birdsong’s “Cola Bottle Baby” than the woozy squawk that now anchors “Harder, Better, Stronger, Faster” (including a thrillingly strained central metaphor delivered as a straight-faced Doobie Brothers serenade), and that particular hook hardly moans out to be looped. With so much haphazardly constructed, all-but-forgotten, still-damnably-catchy ‘70s flotsam resurfacing all the time, a good ear might be the ultimate weapon of mass control. And in that school, Daft Punk has certainly earned its tenure.