Tag Archives: m83

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. Continue reading M83 and his Wall of sound

Hurry Up, We’re… excited about M83

Surprisingly, I’ve never shared the story of how I got into M83, so let’s start there. Back in 2005, the world of music was a simple place, with the post-punk revival reaching its apogee. I got my hands on the Japanese edition of Bloc Party’s debut, Silent Alarm, which came with three remixes tacked on at the end. The final one was M83’s remix of “Pioneers”, and it looked like it was over fourteen minutes long. In fact, it was less than six, but the way the CD was sequenced, the bonus-bonus song, “Every Time is the Last Time” got shoved into the same track as the remix, with a great big silence in between just for its own self-gratification. My bad.

Whether or no, the remix was sublime, and I rushed instantly to the shops to get my hands on more of this wonderful music. Dead Cities, Read Seas & Lost Ghosts was what I bought, and I couldn’t believe my luck. Fifteen-years old, and I was being treated to an electronic reinvention of My Bloody Valentine’s seminal shoegaze, with alternately woozy and then wailing synths set against pattering drum machines. It felt like the unfolding of the universe was being screened in my living room, in high definition, in a roller-disco.

Fast forward six years, and M83 have lost a founding member, gained a revolving cast of musicians with ultra-French names (Loïc, Pierre-Marie, Yann), and given birth to three more albums. Two of them, including the newest, which will see release next month, manage to be even more epic and imperious than Dead Cities… but, alas, that doesn’t necessarily make them better than that album. 2008’s Saturdays=Youth was a unique release, given the albums on either side of it. Real songs, harking back to a distinct aesthetic (the films of John Hughes), with attention paid to the overall dynamic of the album, to prevent it sounding like an unstoppable onslaught of exquisite noise.

The album before Saturdays=Youth was Before The Dawn Heals Us, and it is every bit as noirish as its title and artwork suggest. Vangelis might have turned down some of the arrangements for being too ostentatious, but the Blade Runner worship survives intact. Made-up film dialogue populates interstitial sequences, and searing guitars collide with the familiar template.

And now, or at least very soon, we have Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, which is billed by its creator, Anthony Gonzalez, as being a stylistic cumulation of everything the outfit has made to date. Expect fireworks. And the birth and death of the day. And a futuristic love story hurried on by untamed oscillators and arpeggiators. Certainly, the opening two tracks, previewed in advance of the album, lend weight to Gonzalez’s suggestion. “Intro”, which features timely interjections from the unique vocal talent of Nika Roza Danilova (a.k.a. Zola Jesus), is an appropriate manifesto for the album, a warp-speed tour of M83’s career augmented by an Arcade Fire-aping choral finale. From its blissed-out embers comes the screaming, thumping “Midnight City”, which, sad to say, foregrounds Gonzalez’s more reedy pipes, which resemble a hollowed-out Dave Gahan. Stylistically, the song is a glorious mess, the National-style brass fanfare at the end adding to the discord. But it works… just.

But I can’t help but fear for the rest of the album—someone’s face could end up splattered in all that unbridled messiness.

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark

Last night, after a surprisingly backing track-dependent opening set from Northampton-based Maps, London’s KOKO was privileged to host M83, the critically acclaimed French electronic/shoegaze act masterminded by Anthony Gonzalez (and formerly Nicholas Fromageau). Taking to a stage cloaked in dramatic lighting and decorated with two sizeable keyboard rigs and a perspex-shielded drum kit, Gonzalez treated the suitably blissed-out crowd to a substantial twenty-minute opening solo set, weaving intricate melodies and emotive washes of noise from his custom analog synthesiser, which one member of the crowd compared to an aquarium. Drum machine rhythms skidded and burbled, and Gonzalez occasionally looked up from his toys to greet and thank the audience, which, in true KOKO style, rose up to the rafters of this beautiful converted theatre.

Then, just as our attention may have begun to lapse, to a riotous reception, Gonzalez was joined onstage by his two current band-mates: on keyboards and vocals, Morgan Kibby (which I always thought was a boy’s name, but there you go); on drums, an unnamed musician who looked like he’d jumped out of an 80s synth pop group, and had colossal drumming technique to match. Breaking immediately into Saturdays=Youth anthem, “We Own The Sky”, the three-piece then proceeded to deliver a perfectly paced set incorporating new songs, old songs and songs that didn’t sound like songs that anybody knew. Gonzalez, now a certifiably talented musician, alternated between carving out backing chords on his keyboards, and unleashing a wall of shimmering, keening noise from his white Les Paul, simultaneously singing lyrics that veered between John Hughes and Philip K Dick. Kibby, dazzling in a sparkly blue outfit, made light work of the breathy, cooing vocals on newer songs, and also impressed on the keys.

From a series of 80s-indebted synth-pop songs, such as “Graveyard Girl” and “Kim and Jessie”, the band then moved on to a more chilled-out segment, with songs like “Skin Of The Night” (with its straight outta Phil Collins drums) invoking gentle swaying from the crowd. Then, the band took on a more clubby vibe, employing tasteful dance-punk percussion and searing synths on various unidentifiable songs. Finally, after bowing out rather prematurely, the band returned to delight the crowd with a wonderfully extended, gloriously uplifting performance of “Couleurs”, the centrepiece of Saturdays=Youth. Most of the audience clearly wanted more; the time on the clock suggested otherwise. Though M83 played nothing from their landmark 2003 album, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, the manner in which they eked every last drop of emotion from their songs left every one of us with enormous ear-to-ear grins. M83 are an extraordinarily enchanting proposition on record; live, twice as much.

Private revision rave

I seem to be starting every post nowadays with “Just a quick update to say…” so here comes another one.

My hands are somewhat tied, musically, at present, owing to an overload/guilt trip about actually getting down to some revision. Predictably, I’ve spent the entire year slavishly scribbling down notes without really understanding what was going on. Consequently, I should now have my face firmly held to the grindstone.

While I revise, I do however like to listen to music. Usually I favour stuff with a strong rhythmic element – LCD Soundsystem, Hercules & Love Affair, Prinzhorn Dance School, Portishead, Massive Attack – but I also find myself working more productively with instrumental post rock, which has the effect of letting me “leave the phenomenal world, and enter into the sublime.” Albums like Explosions In The Sky’s Those Who Tell The Truth Will Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Will Live Forever and Tortoise’s landmark TNT are ideal for this purpose, as are most of M83’s albums.

When I’m not revising, I’ve also been exploring the depths of Spotify, and have had the following albums of frequent rotation:

The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!

Konono No. 1 – Congotronics

Amadou & Mariam – Welcome To Mali

Antibalas – Talkatif

John Rutter – Gloria

Various – Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump

Antony & The Johnsons – The Crying Light

Beck – Sea Change

Doves – Kingdom Of Rust

Robert Wyatt – Comicopera

Hockey Night – Keep Guessin’

All of which I can heartily endorse. Certainly if you’re in the UK, you’ve no excuse not to get swallowed up by Spotify, because anyone can sign up.

Enjoy!

You’re bringing me down

I’m man enough to admit that the following albums leave me pretty much in tears by the time they finish:

  • Amon Tobin – Supermodified (occasionally)
  • Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
  • Blur – 13
  • Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
  • Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
  • Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights
  • Jaga Jazzist – What We Must
  • Jonny Greenwood – There Will Be Blood
  • LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
  • Low – Drums And Guns
  • M83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
  • Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
  • Portishead – Third
  • Pulp – We Love Life
  • Radiohead – OK Computer
  • Radiohead – Kid A
  • The Shins – Wincing The Night Away
  • TV On The Radio – Return To Cookie Mountain
  • Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

What does this tell me? Well, other than that I’m possibly an emotional trainwreck, it also suggests that I’m a real sucker for killer album closers, notably those that are long, protracted, portentous and often outstay their welcome. Sometimes, these final songs are emotionally charged to such a degree that I feel utterly drained. At other times, it’s just the pent-up sadness that eventually emerges from an album full of grief, depression or sadness. When a songwriter lays his soul bare on record, it’s hard for me to not empathise.

This has made me sound like someone close to the brink, which I’m not, so I’ll stop now.