Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.
M83: “Midnight City”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/02-Midnight-City.mp3|titles=M83: “Midnight City”]
We live in an increasingly digital age. In this new era, certain elements associated with music have taken a hit: packaging, album artwork, tracks strategically placed on side A or B of a record, the creative complexities that go into double albums — basically, anything that made putting out a record as much of an artistic statement as a musical one. M83, however, is bent on keeping that aesthetic alive.
Of course, in order to do this, Anthony Gonzalez, the front-man for the French electro-pop outfit, had to create an album that actually mattered. He had to make an album that would transcend genre and time period, one that would eclipse the mass amounts of other records released this year. He had to put something out that was over the top, epic, anthemic — and so M83 did just that.
When M83 first broke into the indie scene in the early 2000s with the impressive Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, it seemed like more of an experiment in the evolution of music than anything else. M83 fused hook-laden rock with electronic schizophrenia. There were virtually no vocals on the album, and many viewed it as an experimental art-rock project. Some of that perception shifted with Before the Dawn Heals Us, with its integration of vocals, and the 2000s-meets-1980s gem Saturdays=Youth. (“Kim and Jessie” made M83 a household name for many.)
But now, with this year’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, M83 has truly made the best record of its career. It elaborates on past efforts with fuzzy guitars, synth-heavy walls of sound, Nintendo-esque ornamentation, and varied percussion. In many ways, this album feels like it’s trying to relive the good ol’ days of ’80s new wave, when perceptions and opinions were shifting about what music as an art form could achieve.
However, M83 isn’t simply riding the wave of the past. The album opener, “Intro” (featuring Zola Jesus), points to this progression. Gone are the low, monotone vocals; in their place is full-on singing, reaching heretofore unseen peaks in pitch. While grand synths play out over a choir of angelic vocals, the tune goes crashing toward a cataclysmic end, fading into the pulse-pounding “Midnight City,” which boats one of the catchiest hooks in recent memory.
Those two tracks, back to back, set the tone for the explosiveness and splendor that is packed into the nearly 80-minute album. Despite its massiveness, both in running time and ambition, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming never feels overwhelming. Oddly enough, it’s one of the easier M83 albums to get through, thanks in part to the band’s willingness to experiment with vocal ranges and incorporate an arsenal of hooks into every song. It also helps that there are a few shorter instrumental tracks. Normally, tracks like these get skipped for the next “real” song, but here, they’re every bit as interesting as the longer ones.
Once again fusing sonic qualities of new wave with synth-rock soundscapes — marrying digital with traditional instrumentation (there is even a saxophone solo on “Midnight City”) — M83 has managed to carve its niche in retrospective indie pop. From the soft/loud ballad “Wait,” to the triumphant soundtrack-esque “My Tears are Becoming the Sea,” to the danceable Cut Copy qualities of “Steve McQueen,” it’s clear that Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming oozes with musical prowess and showmanship — the likes of which the band had never truly fleshed out until now. Gonzalez and company have assembled one of the year’s biggest and best surprises.