Best of the B Sides: “Touch”

Back in February, I never thought the day would come, but I actually wore shorts yesterday. Spring is here! That means time for celebratory music! Now, I know I covered Daft Punk for my first best of the b-sides, but Random Access Memories is still such a fresh album that I think it can reasonably be given a second round of notice. My brother shrugged and said, “You should have done ‘Touch’,” when I showed him my piece on “Instant Crush“. He’s right, “Touch” does need a little love, so let’s dissect this week’s b-side since it’s a little more complicated than most.

The song doesn’t really get “started” until 2:30 in, so it takes some patience, but “Touch” is an excellent track from the Daft Punk boys. It starts with a distorted, out-of-this-world type sound with featured artist and songwriting legend Paul Williams‘ voice warped and garbled that smooths itself into clearer, sparser vocals for a while. Things really get kicking at 3:20 with an old-timey piano riff and horns section. Horns section? In a Daft Punk song? Trust me when I say that it works. “Touch” comes in phases and the horns section is the most exciting and rousing part of the whole thing. After that it mellows out into the slow jam of the rest of the track, complete with the space-age sounds that lace throughout Random Access Memories.

This song’s a tough one to wrap your head around because the structure is so non-traditional, but the sound itself is incredibly familiar. It’s an old sound — piano, Williams’ vocals, horns, strings — mixed with the signature Daft Punk synthesizers and distortion. And where Daft Punk is known for its hypnotic repetitiveness, “Touch” is a fairly segmented song. It only gets into the repetitive nature around 4:15, where we enter the fourth act of the track, the above-mentioned slow jam section. Simple drum, vocals, and a slowly-entering chorus and piano. Act five comes around 5:35 where things get spacey again, recalling back to the first act, then a clean finish with Williams’ voice once again for a sixth and final act at 7:40 with a melancholy finale.

It’s a complex song, one that definitely takes patience to figure out, but “Touch” is one of the gems of Random Access Memories. Directly preceding “Get Lucky“, it’s a pinnacle of how complicated and generation-bending this album is. Random Access Memories exists in a time warp, where all genres and all ages of music are welcome. All come to the fore at one point or another, but “Touch” does the best job of showing this. In itself, it’s a moving song with blatant emotion in it. Williams himself was amazed by how vulnerable he sounds on the track, and it comes through to the listener clearly. The melodies are lovely and the total mix is astonishing, so give “Touch” a good listen. There’s some astounding musicianship in there.

Check out Paul Williams’ video on working with Daft Punk. Part of the Collaborators videos released in conjunction with Random Access Memories, Williams gives wonderful insight into the feeling behind Random Access Memories and how powerful the album is:

Photo credit to Christian Anwander

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