Dreampop? Synthpop, synthwave, or even orchestral shoegaze? These are all genres that M83’s sound can fit into. Perhaps as a testament to their nebulousness, this French quintet heady by Anthony Gonzalez only gained significant traction in their fifth studio album Saturdays = Youth back in 2008, yet since then, have gathered considerable popularity not only in the music scene, but surprisingly enough in cinema as well. Having sound tracked the entirety of the Tom Cruise movie Oblivion and had singles from 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming appear in many others, its clear that their fuzzy, nostalgic and wholly anthemic tone was something favoured by casual listeners and film directors alike, and something certainly not lost their latest excursion Junk released April this year. However, it feels that founding member Anthony Gonzalez has gotten a little over his head with the whole 80s synth revival shtick. Junk doesn’t feel quite as anthemic as Saturday = Youth, not quite as alive as Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, and falls slightly short in all the defining characteristics of the M83 we’re used to. In short, it just feels… a bit on the cheap.
Saturday = Youth was an example of nostalgic revival working wonderfully and cohesively in producing an ephemeral, teen drama episode like tone, while Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming felt like a beautifully mature evolution of that theme; the same cannot be said for Junk. There’s certainly individual standout tunes, don’t get me wrong. Solitude is a solid melancholic string and piano ballad, Laser Gun provides a daft punk-esque funk over kooky vocals, and my personal favourite, Tension, is a slowly effervescing glass of springy 80s licks that clearly showcase how Gonzalez has still got it. Now, if the rest of the album was like Tension we’d have ourselves a proper show. My biggest problem with Junk, is that if feels like a confused mess of clothing someone bundled together at a thrift shop. There’s no real theme, there’s no decisiveness in execution. Its all over the place. One minute it’s a driving distorted synth, the next its a ripping guitar solo, and its just plain weird at times. You want to understand the intention, you want to wallow in some fragile, relatable emotion like what Wait from the 2011 album did, and just when think you’re getting at something, you figure its really just too much work and return to whatever you were doing before you happened to stumble across this poor representation of what M83 is usually capable of.
Its difficult decision to do sudden left turns like this, and even harder to get it right. You can’t not praise Gonzalez for trying though. Yet this shouldn’t really come as a surprise to listeners as M83 have a history of dumping huge concept albums, some good, and some frankly a bit naff. Its annoying though, that despite the disappointment, all the pieces are there. The occasional synthesised horns channelling the careless whisper sax is great, busting out the age old 80s driving bass isn’t something new for Gonzalez, and we’ve seen from hugely popular singles like Midnight City that he’s entirely capable of innovating his usual sound successfully. Weirdly though, he’s chosen to produce a selection of songs such as Moon Crystal which is full on 1980s auction showroom nostalgia to the point of ridiculousness and Bibi The Dog, a puzzling ultra modern spoken verse whose tune doesn’t really speak much at all. Perhaps this digression is due in part to a sort of disillusionment from having your music appear in Victoria secret advertisements and blockbuster movies. Whatever the case, there’s a lot to be improved upon.
Skimming through Junk, the word “potential” consistently comes to mind. There’s potential for each tune to become an instant hit, but they nearly always fall just short, bar a select few. Its worth a listen though, if only a cursory one. In an interview prior to Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’s release, Gonzalez mentioned how his music “has always been something very nostalgic” and its served as a way to remember his childhood, but he also expressed his desire to look to the future in the next studio album. If Junk is this future, its not looking too bright.