Four long years after their debut, Homework, Daft Punk returned with a second full-length, also packed with excellent productions and many of the obligatory nods to the duo's favorite stylistic speed bumps of the 1970s and '80s. Discovery is by no means the same record, though. Deserting the shrieking acid house hysteria of their early work, the album moves in the same smooth filtered disco circles as the European dance smashes ("Music Sounds Better with You" and "Gym Tonic") that were co-produced by DP's Thomas Bangalter during the group's long interim. If Homework was Daft Punk's Chicago house record, this is definitely the New York garage edition, with co-productions and vocals from Romanthony and Todd Edwards, two of the brightest figures based in New Jersey's fertile garage scene. Also in common with classic East Coast dance and '80s R&B, Discovery surprisingly focuses on songwriting and concise productions, though the pair's visions of bucolic pop on "Digital Love" and "Something About Us" are delivered by an androgynous, vocoderized frontman singing trite (though rather endearing) love lyrics. "One More Time," the irresistible album opener and first single, takes Bangalter's "Music Sounds Better with You" as a blueprint, blending sampled horns with some retro bass thump and the gorgeous, extroverted vocals of Romanthony going round and round with apparently endless tweakings. Though "Aerodynamic" and "Superheroes" have a bit of the driving acid minimalism associated with Homework, here Daft Punk is more taken with the glammier, poppier sound of Eurodisco and late R&B. Abusing their pitch-bend and vocoder effects as though they were going out of style (about 15 years too late, come to think of it), the duo loops nearly everything they can get their sequencers on -- divas, vocoders, synth-guitars, electric piano -- and conjures a sound worthy of bygone electro-pop technicians from Giorgio Moroder to Todd Rundgren to Steve Miller. Daft Punk are such stellar, meticulous producers that they make any sound work, even superficially dated ones like spastic early-'80s electro/R&B ("Short Circuit") or faux-orchestral synthesizer baroque ("Veridis Quo"). The only crime here is burying the highlight of the entire LP near the end. "Face to Face," a track with garage wunderkind Todd Edwards, twists his trademarked split-second samples and fully fragmented vision of garage into a dance-pop hit that could've easily stormed the charts in 1987. Daft Punk even manage a sense of humor about their own work, closing with a ten-minute track aptly titled "Too Long."
Timed to perfection, Daft Punk's second live album landed exactly ten years after the first, and provides a fitting complement to Alive 1997, easily the best live non-DJ electronica record ever released. While the original featured only a handful of tracks (but found them transformed and tweaked ad infinitum), Alive 2007 is packed with productions, most of them short and many of them getting a big crowd response (all recorded at one show in Paris in June of 2007). As on their first two classic full-lengths, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo display excellent crowd control, pacing the record well, spacing the hits, and building the mood like the good crowd-pleasers they are. (The visuals included in the regular and deluxe editions reveal quite the stage show as well.) It has the feel of a greatest-hits-live concert, but energized by Daft Punk's talents at weaving songs in and out of each other. Even songs from the comparatively desultory Human After All sound rejuvenated in context, with "Robot Rock" getting the show off to a rousing start. It may not be better or stronger than the original Alive 1997, but it's definitely harder and faster.