Electronic Playground: M83
Welcome to Electronic Playground. In this weekly column, we will cover tech-heavy music that is a large segment of the Alternative/Indie movement of today. In general, these bands do not see the popularity of some "less out there" acts, so do not be discouraged if you haven't heard of them. We will focus on all types of electronic music in a genre that is known for its subcategories.
Today, we are going to talk about one of the heavy hitters in the electronic/techno/synthwave or whatever movement you want to call it. (That's right, it's a movement, not a genre). The band consists mainly frontman/songwriter Anthony Gonzalez, but M83 originally started as a duo. M83 is one of the more popular current electronic-driven acts out there. In fact, one of their tracks discussed later, "Wait," was featured in the movie, The Fault in Our Stars. Most people who listen to alternative/indie stations have probably heard their hit, "Midnight City." The song is everything you want in an electronic hit and more. The intense reverberating sounds used throughout are uplifting and give you a sense of fellowship and purpose. Sorry, it's not aromatherapy or anything, but we know we feel something when we listen to this band. Despite sounding as if conforming to the single-track focus of the music industry today, the band does so much more by connecting the songs to the rest of the album. Since you all know about "Midnight City,"let's focus on other tracks that are not as popular, but really show the other side of M83 to people who are not consistent fans. I am choosing to focus on the album Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, due to the importance of the album for the artist(s) and how it drew us not only to M83, but electronic music in general.
M83 - Reunion
One thing that takes some analysis (and requires listening to the album as an album rather than a collection of singles) is how the songs work together throughout the album. Gonzalez took inspiration to create the double album after hearing The Smashing Pumpkins' album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. "Reunion," and "Wait" were written to continue the story started in Midnight City, which as the video shows, is about children with psychic abilities who are attempting to flee from handlers who want to harness their abilities for their own purposes. Of course, this is quite an out there approach that we have come to love from electronic music. In fact, you can find a special edition of the album on Spotify that features commentary from Gonzalez about the inspiration and writing process of each track. Also, the videos work well together and are quite incredible. The vocals are similar to most other tracks, which gives Gonzalez a pretty distinct style, and should help separate M83 from many of the other electronica-type acts, especially due to the use of lyrics or vocals in general (not always). M83 does a great job of using a great vocal range in order to make the vocals a part of the song that stands out. Gonzalez's voice is slightly altered, which makes it sound more like a backing track in terms of fitting in, but it gives an almost Zeppelin-esque feel for the vocal delivery. As Robert Plant did, Gonzalez uses vocal fillers to add to the music as if he were another instrument. Not at all to compare the two acts, but Plant was a great pioneer of this element in rock music so he made a great reference.
M83 - Wait
This track is much more mellow than the previous two in the trilogy. These slower, hauntingly beautiful sounds in this song attracts fans on a different level than the others in out opinion. "Reunion" and "Midnight City" could simply be (and are, actually) songs that sound more fit for the dance floor and can stand on their own quite well. In fact, "Wait," is probably our favorite song on the album because of the way it builds throughout to create a wall of sound toward the end that sucks you into its beauty, but it's not much of a solo track. It was released as a single, but in my opinion, hearing M83 like this gives you a different perspective of the band than those who have only heard the other two tracks. Most of the double album works together in some way, either through the sharing of samplings or narrative, but this track is truly the finale to the trilogy. When listening, you get a sense that you are watching the end of an intense science fiction movie and watching whatever form of extraterrestrial life or supernatural ability going away before wrapping the credits. This is my own personal interpretation from listening (which I did before ever seeing the videos) so do not compare that to what you really see in the visual form of the trilogy.
How to Listen:
First, to feel the entire depth of the masterpieces, use larger speakers if possible. Some of the heavy bass elements in the tracks help facilitate and emphasize importance. If you do not have any, you can still enjoy this band as a lot of the main elements are layered on top and generally are higher frequency sounds. In fact, listen both ways and you will hear new elements each way.
Second, listen from beginning to end, including all intros, fillers, and outros. In order to achieve this without temptation to move around, pick up a copy of the album on vinyl. The album was created to be experienced this way so do not throw on shuffle. Total transparency, when you get to the track "Raconte-Moi One Histoire," you're going to want to change it. The track begins with a very repetitive and beat that continues throughout and even though it's enjoyable, but is almost hard to listen to. If you can get through this track on first listen, you will probably enjoy it. You'll see what we are talking about when turning it on. The sounds are great, but as are those blue holiday lights you see around town, its almost as if the human mind doesn't want to comprehend or cannot entirely bring it into focus. It's frustrating and weird, but something you should put yourself through to simply feel the power music has over us.
Overall, M83 is a great band (artist) and has really inspired a lot of new people to the genre. Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is an absolute masterpiece in terms of holistic product and should be appreciated and respected. Gonzalez did everything he set out to do with this album and it really shows. Give M83 a shot. You will not be disappointed.
Album review: 4.99/5. There are some small parts that drag on and lull through, but for the most part, the experience is second to none, especially if you are spacing out or just in your head. Listening to the album is more like witnessing a light show, even though you can only hear.