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Album Review: M83’s most recent space odyssey

Anthony Gonzalez of M83. (Courtesy of Rama, Wikimedia Commons)

Anthony Gonzalez of M83. (Courtesy of Rama, Wikimedia Commons)
Anthony Gonzalez of M83 (Courtesy of Rama, Wikimedia Commons)

M83’s new album is called “Junk,” the art for its lead single “Do It, Try It” features a floating dog head in space and its second single “Go!” features an epic guitar solo courtesy of Steve Vai. Compared to M83’s previous record “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming,” known for its hit single, “Midnight City,” the new album “Junk” has received lukewarm reviews. Reviewers have criticized it for being cheesy, going overboard with the 80s nostalgia, etc.

And while the depth of mining for old sounds on this album, combined with M83’s penchant for emotional extremes, can at times feel gratuitous, I’m here to defend the unapologetic ‘epic-ness’ that “Junk” provides. It’s important to note that M83 have never exactly been subtle. They’re named after a galaxy, and even the early “Dead Cities, Red Seas, & Lost Ghosts” had its fair share of post-rock crescendos juxtaposed with moments of electronic ambience.

Though perhaps not as cohesive as their previous release “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming,” M83’s “Junk” captures the same emotional extremes of past work. From the ecstatic highs of the piano-driven opener “Do It, Try It” and the colossal “Go!” to more melancholy and, at times, subdued songs like “Solitude” – a song that’ll make you feel like you’re actually floating in space – and the heart-wrenching duet “Atlantique Sud.”

“Atlantique Sud,” a highlight from the new album, is an evocative duet  between Anthony Gonzalez and Mai Lan sung in French. It’s a love song in the classic sense, but like much of the album, the instrumentation – in this case, the piano, horns, strings and reverb-drenched vocals — gives us the sense that the two lovers exist outside of space and time, away from one another. The vocals weave in and out seamlessly, singing softly to each other across the distance: “Je pense toujours à toi” (I always think about you), “Je t’attends dans le noir,” (I’m waiting for you in the dark), etc.

If you read these lines on paper, you could easily criticize them for being cheesy, overly-romantic, etc., but when sung, they become transcendent. This is the key to much of M83’s music. Yes, it’s romantic, epic, even cheesy at times. But the talent of Anthony Gonzalez as a songwriter makes us suspend our disbelief for a moment.

In this sense, “Junk” is not as far as it may first appear from the sweeping, dramatic unfolding that the double LP “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” gave us. This record, like “Junk,” mined 80s nostalgia (e.g. the sax solo at the end of “Midnight City”) in order to create an immersive experience. “Junk” is more of a continuation of this trend than a departure. However, it does differ from M83’s previous works in one sense: In the sea of emotion, “Junk” knows how to have fun.

 

Contact Tyler Dunston at [email protected]

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