M83’s new record sees the sonic ambition of Anthony Gonzales stretched out into dreamland
M83 is maybe the most expansive a name as an act has ever been given, and not because it’s named after a grim three-laned stretch of British road.
“M83 is actually the name of a galaxy. I’ve always been fascinated with space and stars since I was a kid and the electronic or electric nature of these things, and I just wanted to find a name that connected all these things within the music.”
Anthony Gonzalez, the brains behind M83, likes to think big. Ever since Crack became aware of this soaring, electronic colossus, it’s always been possible to make an informed prediction about what direction the majority of their sound, no matter how varied or complex, will be travelling – onwards and upwards.
Having just released his sixth album, Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, Gonzalez continues this relentless vertical progress even further than his last record Saturday=Youth , not just in terms of actual sound, but also in its ambitious nature. Double CDs are a tricky thing to get right at the best of times. Either they can’t quite hold the attention span for the desired period of time due to the wealth of music on there (see Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness), or, in most cases, they come across as chronically overblown (see Stadium Arcadium). But despite this being a project fraught with risk, we should have expected no less from a man with such lofty sonic ambitions.
Gonzalez explains: “There is totally a concept behind the album: the concept is the past, and dreams, and how dreaming as a child is very important. The front cover of the album is two children sat on a bed surrounded by objects that could form parts of their dreams … I think both CDs are really connected; it’s true there are more singles on disc one, but not necessarily less or more vocals than disc two. It wasn’t meant to be less or more.”
The cover of the record is clearly an important tool for Gonzalez to try and convey a message. On the last record, bleary-eyed teenagers in a green setting, experimenting and pushing their way through the rabbit hole depicted an otherworldly, wasted of youth. The feeling of narcotic invincibility on tracks like We Own The Sky and the pulsating Couleurs created vibrant explosions and rushes that launched Gonzalez into a league of his own. Shoegazy, but with a truly accessible pop and vocal element, the production made every audible element of Gonzalez’s creation crisp and tangible. It was a very, very strong record, so much so it won album Drowned In Sound’s Album Of The Year For 2008.
So if strong concept produces strong results, it’s hard to imagine a more expansive idea to work with than dreams, and the resulting record keeps you locked in position for its duration. From the melodic and poptastic Midnight City as an opening gambit, there is a wild amount of variation on the album. Less sonically intimidating than the last record, the first CD carries more of what would be considered single material, with a really strong underlying 80s strand that makes significant nods to primitive synths, slap-bass hooks and (whisper it quietly), power ballads. When crafting pop songs in the realm of M83’s massive sonic aspirations this was always likely to happen. Thankfully, though, it never strays into Phil Collins territory.
The second CD sees Gonzalez returning to a more familiar realm, with epic instrumentals forming the basis of many of the songs. The opening fanfare that is My Tears Are Becoming The Sea is followed by perhaps the best track on the entire album, the rushy and yearning New Map.
Gonzalez disperses interludes and breaks throughout the album, with instrumentals and smaller pieces making the double CD seem less like a collection of songs and more of a cohesive piece. Another standout track, the oddly titled Steve McQueen, sees Gonzalez reproducing dance music structure within a pop-song vocal format to stunning effect. Yet the overriding musical influence you get from the record is without doubt the shoegaze element that forms the basis for most of M83’s most soaring and sonically blissful moments.
Part credit for for the crystal-clear production on the record must be given to the recruiting of Justin Medal-Johnson to take over duties behind the desk. Having formerly worked with The Mars Volta and Nine Inch Nails, he was given the role of fully achieving the epic sound Gonzalez hoped to explore on the album; no mean feat given the sheer scope attempted.
Gonzalez explains: “He (Justin), felt very natural to work with. He was experienced enough to know what I wanted for the sound on this album. I do a lot of production myself, but I always like to work with other people and get different opinions.”
The nature of the music has earned obvious comparisons to other expansive shoegaze artists, though it’s a badge that Gonzalez is happy to wear with pride and rightfully so. “M83 has always been an electronic band encompassing all of my influences. Obviously that includes electronic music, but also rock music: things like Sonic Youth, Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine.”
But the magnitude of the M83 project and the consistent and frequent output of Gonzalez’s work means the majority of the credit must go to the man himself. The sonic arrangements on all of his records to date are often one- man formulations, and considering he’s just turned 30, labelling him a prolific creative mind is far from an
A further stamp of authenticity for the M83 project is the fact that all tracks are constructed with the live arena in mind. A computer software producer Gonzalez is
not, multi-instrumentalist he most certainly is. He explains: “I don’t want people to make the mistake that I’m just one guy with a computer. I’m using the computer for recording myself, but mainly I’m using guitars. I don’t really use computers to generate the sounds.”
The experience of watching M83 live is lifted further by this consideration at the point of recording. In an age where so much live electronic music can be sterile and pre-prepared, the dynamics of his recording process massively enhances his live performance. Supporting Depeche Mode on their North American tour was a set of gigs that provided a perfect fit for Gonzalez’s expansive sound, and on his previous UK tour in support of Saturday=Youth, the live set, particularly a stand-out performance from live drummer Loic Maurin, acted as a brilliant antidote to pre-programmed ‘live’ performances.
Despite not being at Depeche Mode arena level, the fact Gonzalez was personally chosen for these shows is a direct endorsement of M83’s stadium-sized sound and potential. The one constant that remains in all of his music is the sheer volume of the sound he consistently employs. The intricate mix of soft, yearning vocals intermingled with spine-tingling, soaring rushes of synth can often make listening to M83 the aural equivalent of the sky falling in, or something equally vast in magnitude.
He elaborates: “The way I like to make music means I’m not scared of going too big. I live for ambitious musical projects. This is what I’m made for. I like big ambitious music and the same with films. This is what I’m like at heart.”
It’s a ludicrously potent mix, where raw emotion and fragility meets immeasurably huge concepts of metaphysics and beyond. M83 soundtrack a human view of the galaxy with which his music shares a name.
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