M83 and his Wall of sound

The more time I spend with M83’s recent double-album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, the more I understand its place in the history of progressive music. By eschewing the shoegaze structures that characterised their breakthrough album, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, the band has managed to weld together the perfect kind of lengthy, wandering album. There were hints of the pop ethic on their previous full-length, Saturdays = Youth, but this time round the choruses are bigger, the vocals clearer, and the studious techno marathons reduced to interstitial passages.

If you’re looking for the album’s clear antecedent, it’s got to be Pink Floyd’s The Wall, released in 1979, which was a sprawling opus of tangled emotions and paranoia, but also, crucially, had a fair few easily-strummable hits that were then dressed up in ceremonially progressive garb. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is an awful lot more triumphant than The Wall, and it’s not convoluted by even the sketchiest of narrative conceits. All the same, the parallels are plain to see.

The experimental builder of an opening track, “Intro“, which features the otherworldly wailings of Nika Danilova (a.k.a. Zola Jesus), turns out to be quite the red herring, because it’s soon replaced by a series of anthemic compositions, woven together by futuristic, loosely travel-related interludes. Some of these also share a Floydian aesthetic—chord changes, even—like “Where The Boats Go”, which reminds me of “Welcome To The Machine” from 1975’s Wish You Were Here, and “Train To Pluton”, which has shades of the seminal “On The Run“.

The big-tent pop songs, meanwhile, run the gamut of styles, rather like the different suits worn by “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)” and “Comfortably Numb“. Again, it’s important to stress M83’s chief songwriter Anthony Gonzalez is in a considerably better mood than Roger Waters back in 1979. “Midnight City” (see above), a bona fide modern classic, bounces alongside an at-first ‘WTF’ manipulated vocal sample, and features a real throwback of a saxophone solo in its outro. It’s a song that seems designed for awards ceremonies. “Claudia Lewis” is full of wordless exhortations, joyous slap-bass, and an all-too brief synth solo that’s wandered off a Rush album. Amidst the intergalactic optimism there is also balladry, in the shape of songs like “Splendor“, with its children’s choir and handclaps (another Pink Floyd relic), and “Wait”, which is uncannily similar to the Dark Side Of The Moon classic, “Us And Them“.

“A series of anthemic compositions, woven together by futuristic, travel-related interludes”

So Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming manages to straddle an uneasy pair of traits: taken as a whole, it’s a sprawling behemoth that many will work through only once or twice a year (unless it winds up becoming a totemic album of our generation, in which case, I shall eat my words); deconstructed into individual songs, it’s a catchy enough collection to break into mainstream radio (which “Midnight City already has, I notice).

But to take such an analytical approach does the album a disservice: mostly, it’s a thrilling head-rush that plants you firmly in a made-up universe of silver rockets and magic frogs and universal, universe-crossing love. Gonzalez attempted something similar on 2005’s noirish Before The Dawn Heals Us, just after he’d broken up with his old sparring partner Nicolas Fromageau. But back then, he didn’t have the balls or the budget to do his vision justice: the album had moments of fizzing brilliance, and also many moments of tiresome made-up film dialogue.

This time round, everything is in place for him to conquer the world.


Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming by M83 was released in October 2011 on Naïve Records.

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