M83


(Copyright © 1999-2024 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

M83 (2001), 6.5/10
Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts (2003), 7.5/10
Before The Dawn Heals Us (2005), 6/10
Digital Shades Vol 1 (2007), 4/10
Saturdays = Youth (2008), 6/10
Hurry Up We're Dreaming (2011), 6.5/10
Junk (2016), 4.5/10
DSVII (2019), 4/10
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(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

French electronica duo M83 (Nicolas Fromageau and Anthony Gonzalez) transposed My Bloody Valentine's shoegazing psychedelia into an age in which keyboards had replaced guitars as the pivotal sound-effect instrument; or, if one prefers, they took Brian Eno's Discrete Music and applied it to the age of super-doom. Their first album, M83 (Goom, 2001), dedicated to a distant galaxy, was still influenced by the ambient electronic music of Klaus Schulze and Lightwave (the celestial carillon of Violet Tree, the galactic lounge music Carresses), but the idea already surfaced of making heavy guitar rock using keyboards instead of (or in addition to) guitars, notably in the most exuberant piece, the keyboards-driven rave-up Kelly (propelled by techno beat and rock'n'roll drumming). Elsewhere the project was still shy. The false quiet that opens Night is devastated by a psychedelic merry-go-round of droning guitar, bouncy beats and melodic keyboards, The seven-minute Facing That is a tornado of noise and samples that decays into a calm suspense . The robotically filtered vocals At The Party and the languid guitar wails a` la Pink Floyd do not quite overcome their retro limitations. The album was a display of studio mastery, not but yet at the service of unbridled creativity.

Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts (Mute, 2003) fulfills the promise of M83's first album with a wildly intense and gloriously unpredictable style that manages to bridge Bach, Brian Eno, My Bloody Valentine and Terry Riley, while remaining within the canon of rock music, replacing the guitar with the electronic keyboards and abandoning the vocals as the center of mass of the "song". In one of the most eloquent aesthetic moves of the early 21st century, M83's duo (Nicolas Fromageau and Anthony Gonzalez) coined a musical language that was both ethereal and ominous, woozy and abrasive, celestial and gloomy, spiritual and violent, light as a feather and massive like a boulder.
Unrecorded moves like a baroque sonata, fueled by soaring synth lines and catastrophic guitar distortion while all sorts of underlying electronic streams pulsate like harpsichords. A maelstrom of wavering, moaning and pounding sounds implodes in Run into Flowers, eventually releasing a chaotic string sonata over a whispered lament. Reenacting the old hippy stratagem of con/fusing religious and psychedelic trance, In Church indulges in the sweeping notes of an austere, liturgical pipe organ. America weds symphonic keyboards, vocal collage, and disjointed drum'n'bass rhythm. The floating electronic melodies of On a White Lake Near a Green Mountain paint a fresco of incommensurable melancholy that evokes both Constance Demby's sacred symphonies and Albinoni's Adagio. The oscillating music of Noise lulls the neuroses of post-industrial society in a self-amplifying web of loud drones. The sense of tragedy that has been building up is demystified in 0078h, an odd encounter between a tongue twister, Japanese zen music and sidereal propulsion. After so much emotional bleeding, the sustained "om" of Gone that explodes in a majestic rainbow of humbler/merrier "om"s, stands like a requiem for the world that has been surveyed. The closing apotheosis of Beauties Can Die (a five-minute wordless hymn followed by a nine-minute coda of metaphysical breeze) crowns the disc while converging towards a form of hypnosis in which darkness and light become one.

Nicolas Fromageau left M83 for Team Ghost, and M83 became the solo-project of Anthony Gonzalez.

M83's third album, Before The Dawn Heals Us (Mute, 2005), which is de facto Gonzalez's first solo album, added more voices (if not vocals) to the mix and was pervaded by a general vice of psychedelic grandeur. From the very overture of Moonchild, a sense of both universal ecstasy and impending apocalypse permeates the songs. The gentle elegy of Farewell/Goodbye (their first fully-formed song) and the Pink Floyd-ian slumber of Safe and the glacial organ drones of In the Cold I'm Standing are the exception to the rule, the rule being the thundering languor of Don't Save Us from the Flames, the propulsive and ethereal Teen Angst (the music seems to negate the lyrics), the soaring and martial A Guitar and a Heart (perhaps the standout), and the closing ten-minute symphonic epic of Lower Your Eyelids to Die with the Sun, drenched in solemn choirs, solemn drums, solemn keyboards and solemn guitars. The album is certainly intense, but not "tense", and part of its predecessor's value is lost. What is worse, the songs are often repetitive: it does feel like we are listening to the same three songs over and over again. The shorter songs (with the notable exception of the guitar-driven space jam *) are positively annoying. All in all, it sounds like half of the third album is made of leftovers from the second album.

Saturdays = Youth (Mute, 2008) refined the hybrid of dream-pop, emocore and synth-pop drenched in the sounds of drum-machines and synthesizers (and ethereal female vocals) that they had pioneered on Before The Dawn Heals Us. Songs such as Graveyard Girl (one of the most propulsive songs of their career), Kim & Jessie and We Own the Sky display the band's exuberant facade (the pulsing layered method), but the real M83 atmosphere lies elsewhere: in the repetitive piano melody, the breathy vocals and the crescendo of shimmering keyboards and guitars of opener You Appearing; in the eight minutes of Skin Of The Night, for skipping electronic beats and dreamy vocal harmonies; in the Bjork-ian fairy tale of Up; and especially in the soaring galactic ecstasy of Highway of Endless Dreams.
The eight-minute instrumental disco shuffle Couleurs (a truly infectious beat but little of substance over it) and the eleven-minute lulling ambient fresco Midnight Souls Still Remain (a placid volley of drones) sound out of context but are actually the highlights of the collection, precisely because they escape the excesses of the other songs.
The bombastic production ruins quite a bit of the magic, and the melodies are third-rate, despite the attempts to boost them with loud and dense arrangements.

The (mostly) instrumental album Digital Shades (Vol.1) (Mute, 2007) documents M83's ambient and new-age project. The (modest) highlight is the eight-minute The Highest Journey.

M83's double LP Hurry Up We're Dreaming (Mute, 2011) is Anthony Gonzalez's exhilarating sonic experience. Here the singer and producer augmented his symphonic synths with technocratic drum machines and high-tech arrangements to produce maximum emotional impact. Hence the ethereal cosmic pan-ethnic chant of Intro, that sounds like a collaboration between Enigma and Sinead O'Connor, and the Peter Gabriel-ish angst-filled shout Reunion. Despite the herculean effort, Gonzalez's incursion into mainstream music largely fails because Midnight City is the Pet Shop Boys without the killer hooks, Claudia Lewis is syncopated synth-pop of the 1980s without the energetic punk element, the Zen-like elegy Soon My Friend evokes psychedelic chants of the 1960s without the zany spirit, Steve McQueen is bombastically hummable but also lazily repetitive, and Wait cries and agonizes in a crystalline ambience reminiscent of latter-day Pink Floyd without the psychological depth. Best of the bunch is perhaps the exuberant merry-go-round New Map, that harks back to Mad-chester of the 1990s without missing too much of the verve and adding a surreal coda of soulful sax solo. Gonzalez attempts a crescendo of emotional intensity peaking with the ruthlessly Wagner-ian banging of Echoes Of Mine (another song with no lyrics other than spoken word) and with the martial orchestral melodrama of Outro. Very few of the instrumental interludes, instead, matter.
Moments of authentic genius surface when least expected: the brilliant spoken-word novelty Raconte-Moi Une Histoire (probably inspired by the commentaries and soundtracks of so many YouTube videos), the gyrating guitar-driven Greek dance Year One One UFO with echoes and incitements instead of lyrics, and the suspended otherworldly lullaby Splendor with spare piano accompaniment and Beach Boys-ian vocal harmonies.
There is no overall concept to offer a lifesaver to the weaker songs of this sprawling work. Each one has to stand on its own. Alas, pop is pop is pop: no matter how vast the arsenal of state-of-the-art tools is and how badly Gonzalez tries to inject life into old melodies, most of what is offered here is doomed to rapid oblivion. There is no doubt, however, that Gonzalez has improved both his vocal skills and his musical vision, and is probably ready for the rock opera or concept album that will vindicate his ambition.

Gonzalez also composed the soundtracks for his brother Yann Gonzalez's films You and the Night (2013) and Knife + Heart (2019), the latter his first collaboration with Fromageau in ten years, inspired to the soundtracks of Mario Bava's horror movies of the 1960s. Gonzalez also composed the soundtrack for Joseph Kosinski's sci-fi film Oblivion (2013).

M83's nostalgic kitsch/chic reached an almost parodistic peak on Junk (2016) with its bombastic arrangements. Moon Crystal and Sunday Night 1987 (with traces of the Beatles' Yesterday) sound like replicas of orchestral sitcom music. Atlantique Sud (sung by French vocalist Mai Lan) and the symphonic Solitude sound like tributes to the French chansonniers of the past. At the other end of the spectrum, Mai Lan's vocals also pepper the propulsive house-music of Laser Gun and Go, and the single Do It Try It is bombastic Pet Shop Boy-esque synth-pop with ragtime piano. Not so much an album as a collection of leftovers.

M83's instrumental album DSVII (Mute, 2019) was a follow-up to Digital Shades Vol 1 (2007), twelve years later, and conceived as the soundtrack to an imaginary videogame; but it's a very confused collection of mediocre music. The nine-minute Temple of Sorrow and Lune de Fiel conjure the atmosphere of horror-movie soundtracks; whereas Feelings, Hell Riders and Goodbye Captain Lee sound like new-age music of the 1980s. There is still one hilarious imitation of sitcom music, Oh Yes You're There Everyday and there are two ambient delights (Colonies and the orchestral Mirage), but, just like the first Digital Shades, this album feels like a compilation of leftovers.

(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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