By Connor Schwanke
Release Date: April 7, 2016
M83 has been coined for their increasingly epic, cinematic albums, culminating to the 2011 double album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. The critical success and goosebumps moments of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming landed scoring opportunities for frontman Anthony Gonzalez for films like Oblivion and Divergent. Some other titles off the album, like “Wait,” also found many homes in cinematic situations.
M83’s tonal palette has always held a purposeful nostalgic scent, particularly towards the electronic nature of the ’70s or ’80s, but M83’s new release, Junk, fully reveals the steel cable tethering Gonzalez to his roots. In an interview with Pitchfork, Gonzalez explains the seemingly self-conscious album title.
“It’s a statement,” Gonzalez said. “This is how people listen to music nowadays: They’re just gonna pick certain songs they like—one, two, if you’re lucky—and trash the rest. All else becomes junk.”
With that, Junk steps down from the double album colossal journey and delivers an LP that is contemporary in build. It still affords the dense sonics of M83, but plays out much more candied concepts, like saxophone intros, keytar solos, plastered slap basses and Steve Vai guitar solos.
The opening statement of the album,“Do It, Try It,” is a snapshot of Gonzalez’s album ambitions. Vocal samples against a house piano contrasted by a counterpointing slap bass, is practically an assortment of junk. However, Gonzalez makes it work together functionally for a catchy enthusiasm. It follows with the swirling and stuttering second single, “Go!” that bursts in the Steve Vai solo. In “Walkaway Blues,” M83 breaks out the vocoder in a slow beat, and keeps it for “Bibi The Dog”, mixing it with sultry French spoken word.
The album doesn’t truly hit upon M83’s melancholy stride until “For The Kids,” a track that uses the voice of Zelly Meldal-Johnsen, who was the little girl in the “tiny frog” dialogue in “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire.” Although this track holds melancholy in a ballad format, M83 sits back in the dramatic-cinematic melancholy in their next track, “Solitude.” Then, Junk changes focus back, departing once again into a fun strut and funky spoken word with “Laser Gun,” “Road Blaster,” and “Time Wind,” a very Beck sounding collaboration with Beck. The album finishes off with a solemn string score leading into a berceuse.
The quick shifting of ideas contributes to the idea of “junk.” Unfortunately, M83’s consolidating factor for them became rather off-putting to critics and fans alike. M83’s songwriting and arranging is world class, and that still prevails in Junk. However, the instrumentation, which is the consolidating factor, uses dated tropes that, although deliberate, prove to be distracting. The tropes are rather tastefully used overall, but they are divertingly explicit in some places. For example, “Moon Crystal” has never been described anything less than a sitcom instrumental due to its abundance of key changes and string glissandos against quirky piano chords. The seriousness of “For The Kids” is undermined by its Sarah McLachlan style and long-tailed saxophone solo. Because of the explicit examples, the less-obvious examples become more noticeable, making Junk seem like a copy of ’80s music. Perhaps this is due to Gonzalez’s preference to look backwards rather than forwards.
Another reason for the listener pushback of this album was the expectation of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming 2.0. The album was so valued that everyone, including me, wanted more of it. Gonzalez, however, knew his album would be excruciatingly compared to the former, so he instead created something personal. Honestly, even if he had created Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming 2.0, it would still be heavily compared to the former. It’s practically a doomed album either way so he made sure the album was for himself. The Pitchfork interview, when regarding his experience scoring Oblivion, mentioned that “he has said the experience—making music to please everyone else before himself, being told his ideas were ‘too indie’—left him ‘on the verge of breaking down.’” So, “Gonzalez wanted to shift gears with the new M83 record, to crank down his epic visions into ‘something more crazy and fun—an organized mess.’”
So, although Junk is disappointing for the know-what-you’re-gonna-get nation and doesn’t grasp for innovation in this art-saturated time, M83 is still an extremely talented and special project. Personally, I enjoy this album a lot, and I have relistened numerous times. So take this album for what it is: a fun, impetuous album that goes for the music, not the connotations.