Shoegaze and electronic have always been two of my favorite genres. So when M83 got internet famous by combining the two, I figured I would be a big fan. But through almost a decade of M83 releases, I haven’t really been able to get into any of them save “Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts.” I was always partial to the fusion of the genres that Sweet Trip had pulled off, especially on Velocity:Comfort:Design. Still, I couldn’t say that M83 was bad in any way; just not my cup of tea.
On this new double LP, the formula has changed slightly. It’s mostly electronic, with less shoegaze influence and more post rock, especially an Explosions in the Sky type emphasis on a strong and driving drumbeat. The sax on Midnight City is a great touch, but slightly marred by the annoying quality of the main synth track.
It’s how I feel about this album in a nutshell: When everything clicks, it’s a great experience, but most of the time there will be a fantastic track that’s ruined by an electronic or synth riff that is inappropriate or just downright irritating. The filter is wrong, or it’s too repetitive, or something: a small flaw that in an otherwise perfect track, seems intentionally put there to drive the listener insane. The synths in Midnight City and Raconte-Moi Une Historie come to mind immediately as the two most obvious examples.
Quite impressive to me is the fact that, unlike most double albums ever recorded (The Wall, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, etc.), there is no section in the album where you feel like the quality dips. In fact, it seems to build up steam as it rolls along, whereas Mellon Collie is top heavy with a mostly forgettable disc 2, and The Wall has that (comparatively) terrible section of tracks in between Hey You and Comfortably Numb.
The vocals here are conventionally mixed, which tells me that however much shoegaze might have been in M83′s past, he’s left it behind for more conventional lyrical and sonic structure. Which is fine by me, I’m not going to criticize an artist for branching out (before I get my Strokes review thrown back at me, they tried to branch out but they ended up sucking at it), as long as it’s done well. And here the vocals are well served by being in front, as there is a lot of emphasis on backup vox as well as the main vocal melody.
This is quite a long album, with some tracks approaching six minutes, an interesting move in the age of the 99cent single on iTunes. But a patient listener will be rewarded with a good selection of tracks featuring intense drumming, full sounding vocals, the occasional prominent slap bass, and unconventional instumental choices for electronic music (whistling, saxephones, footstomps). A good album, and my only complaint is that some elements in some tracks are unpalatable, and other tracks that I like a lot tend to be the shorter ones (This Bright Flash).
I’d give this hefty piece of music three and a half Halls out of five Oates.