M83 performs with guest Active Child, Wednesday, Nov 3rd at The Beacham.
Late last year, Anthony Gonzalez announced his next album was almost complete and would be “very, very, very epic.” With all due respect, consider the redundancy of that statement: Since 2003 breakthrough Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, every new and increasingly colossal M83 studio record has led to widespread crowdsourcing of synonyms for “epic.” What exactly was he promising other than simply another album?
Well, throughout the past decade, the 30-year old Gonzalez has honored the tremendous impact of growing up during the golden age of CD buying by implicitly serving as a patron saint for those who treat the weekly trip to the record store as a pilgrimage and still covet the album as a physical proposition: His output always comes stylishly packaged, with cover art worth obsessing over and credits that need to be scoured in order to spot the guest appearances. Unsurprisingly, he ups the ante here by aspiring to what is still the paradigm of artistic permanence, both in terms of legacy and tactility: the double album, that occasionally ambitious, usually decadent, and almost always fascinatingly flawed endeavor of musicians convinced (rightfully or otherwise) that they’re at the peak of their own powers. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming might be all of those things, but above all else, it’s the best M83 record yet.
But let’s talk about restraint for a moment: While each side of Hurry Up would be oddly slight for an M83 album, the demands of its 74-minute runtime are hardly daunting. It’s actually the easiest M83 album to consume in one sitting, a reverse accumulation of past strengths that makes for Gonzalez’s most compact and combustive music yet. He continues the path set by Saturdays=Youth by easing out of the mini-movie business in exchange for pop songcraft, while trading that LP’s pretty-in-pink pastels for the urban neons and fluorescents of Before the Dawn Heals Us and embodying Dead Cities‘ mile-wide expansiveness.
But the most crucial change is how touring with the likes of Depeche Mode has inspired a newfound showmanship in his vocals: Previously, Gonzalez enlisted outside help, piped in plot-advancing narratives, or sang in a low, tentative murmur that submitted to its massive surroundings. But here, within the first minutes of “Intro”, he’s matching blows with the juggernaut bellow of Zola Jesus‘ Nika Danilova to the point where it’s much tougher than you’d think to tell them apart. It’s really not too different from the first chords of “Planet Telex” or Lil Wayne’s “Tha Mobb” in terms of being an unmistakable sign that you’re going to be listening to this familiar act differently.
M83 have never stood for half measures in any aspect, but Gonzalez is absolutely going for it here in a way that sheds new light on known tricks: The hair-triggered drum rolls of “New Map” recall Before the Dawn‘s searing car-crash fantasy “Don’t Save Us From the Flames”, but Gonzalez’s nervy punctuation at the end of each line sells the idea that he’s along for the ride this time rather than being a passive observer. Dead Cities‘ “In Church” was the sound of blissful acquiescence, but amidst the swaggering synth-metal of “Midnight City”, Gonzalez hollers, “The city is my church!” empowered and present, finding a voice for the evangelical zeal always implicit in his work.
Gonzalez has stressed Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness as a major inspiration (and by extension, its forefather, The Wall), and its influence can be spotted in Hurry Up‘s power ballads “Wait” and “My Tears Are Becoming a Sea”, sumptuously arranged tracks that could still be played solo on an acoustic guitar. Thankfully, he didn’t retain much from “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” or “The Trial”, and rather than one man lashing out at the world from the safety of his own thematic construct, you feel that Gonzalez is trying to connect with it.
As such, the moments of indulgence are in service of the album’s most endearing and silly emotions: Some might consider “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire” a throwaway because it’s “the one about a magic frog,” but besides embodying the whiplash emotions of youth by following the magnificent melancholy of “Wait”, its almost eerie brightness and Windows 95-era sound effects capture a technological optimism better than a lot of artists who are trying only to do that. Meanwhile, “Year One, One UFO” attempts to distill the percussion-mad, organic ecstasy of Vision Creation Newsun into three minutes, while on the opposite side, “Claudia Lewis” and “OK Pal” show a mastery of slapbass-poppin’, corporate funk-rock comparable to Ford & Lopatin or Cut Copy without the twinge of pastiche.
As with any double album, there’s a temptation to strip away the instrumental tracks or simply pick the best 50 minutes for your daily commute. But the interludes here are intended to be every bit as purposeful as the singles: The shorter the track, the more evocative its title (“Where the Boats Go”, “Train to Pluton”, “Another Wave From You”). While many of them stand as intriguing meditations on their own merits, they reinforce Hurry Up‘s intentions to be an immersive universe– check in whenever you want, but the magic’s in the exploratory phases. And why leave out what falls in between, like the thermite burst of the two-minute “This Bright Flash” or the stately “When Will You Come Home?”-to-“My Tears Are Becoming a Sea” triptych that serves as the connective transit between Side 1 and Side 2.
Then again, I can’t blame anyone who takes shortcuts, since the traditionally structured songs here are some of the most thrilling pop music released this year. The heavily saturated synths Gonzalez favored early in his career invited plenty of My Bloody Valentine comparisons, but whereas pure shoegaze of that nature attempts to overwhelm and obliterate, Hurry Up is like a sonic planetarium, penetrable and totally geared toward enhancing the user experience. Few artists make more ingenious use of the sheer physics of rock to this extent– defining which synth pads strike which emotional pressure points, using percussion as explosives rather than mere elements of timekeeping, coiling the tension of a verse to make every chorus feel phenomenally cathartic even without any words.
At this point in the year, you’d think a saxophone solo would have lost all the novelty it had accumulated over decades of disuse, yet when one pops up at the end of “Midnight City”, it triumphantly squires the track out at the highest point possible. After a streak of staccato guitar chords and splashy cymbal hits rev up “Reunion”, the shouts from its chorus could come from a soccer stadium or a speedboat chase. “Intro” is typical of Gonzalez’s love for zero-gravity arrangements of massed choirs and cathedral reverb, but there’s nothing buzzy or clouded about it– as high as he takes things, you can still see everything underneath in crisp, butterflies-inducing depth and detail.
And then there’s “Steve McQueen”, which somehow makes the preceding hour of music feel like its prelude. Point blank, it’s as close as most of us will get to being strapped inside a space shuttle, as midway through an almost unbearably tensile verse, you don’t hear drums so much as afterburners kicking in. By the chorus, it simply cannot go further up, and it explodes at the perfect moment into hair-metal guitar chords and synth-led skywriting. And yet, because it’s almost impossible to say what “Steve McQueen” is about (certainly not the actor), it’s capable of glorifying anything you choose– a slow motion shot of Kirk Gibson rounding the bases in the 1988 World Series, a holiday fireworks display, or getting into your car and simply celebrating the end of an exhausting day.
Is it a lot to handle? Of course, and those who have yet to connect with M83 may wonder if the sort of incapacitating longing expressed by “Wait” can possibly be experienced by anyone over the age of 16 or whether they’ll ever be able to afford the stereo equipment seemingly required for its intended effect. But remember, it’s called Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming: It doesn’t attempt to be a comprehensive or even realistic purview of the human experience, and lord knows there’s plenty out there that’s meant to capture small moments.
It’s easy to mistrust something so irrepressibly optimistic about the affective possibilities of music and to attribute these feelings to the domain of some “other,” whether it’s the 1980s, teenhood, or a pop product. Does it share some sort of commonality with “Born This Way” or “Firework“, or any other entry from 2011’s chart music that attempts to convince you of your own superstardom? Surely, but Gonzalez never comes off like he’s selling a brand, a lifestyle, or even himself– his lyrics remain as opaque as ever. Hurry Up instead serves as a framework to realize the marvelous capability of our dreams and daily lives, should we be open to experiencing it.