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“On the last album, there was too much of me.” That’s how Anthony Gonzalez – the sonic auteur behind that most sublime purveyor of symphonic-indie-electronic-dream pop, M83, describes the primary inspiration behind his forthcoming album Junk, released on April 8 by Mute. Highly anticipated, Junk is not just M83’s frst studio artist album in half a decade; it’s also the follow-up to Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming – which upon release in 2011 put M83 in the direct current of the mainstream. So why would Gonzalez try to remove himself from its follow-up and supplant himself with the surprising likes of Beck and Steve Vai. Wait, Steve Vai? The legendary virtuoso guitar hero who defned an era? On a M83 album in 2016? In trying to “remove” his identifable musical presence, ironically Gonzalez may have made one of his most personal eforts yet in Junk and with no compromise. With Junk, M83 has succeeded in making what Gonzalez called “an organized mess - a collection of songs that aren’t made to live with each other, yet somehow work together. From album opener “Do It Try It”, a fractured yet catchy mélange of old-school house music pianos and pop-art bubblegum hooks worthy of ABBA, to “Moon Crystal,” an instrumental whose mutant retro-futurist grooves evoke Genesis doing a prog-disco remix of the Love Boat theme, to the smooth new wave-meetselectro-funk workout “Time Wind” (featuring vocals by Beck) to “Go!”, an exultant synth-pop charmer featuring vocals from new M83 collaborator Mai Lan and guitar solo from legendary shredder, Steve Vai, one thing is perfectly clear: “Every time I make a M83 album, I’m trying to do it on my own terms – and it’s the same for this one,” Gonzalez says. “Whatever I do, whatever infuences I have, it ends up sounding like me. As a musician, I’m just trying to take you somewhere else, beyond your world.”
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No, he took that risk anyway because the emotions and memories evoked by this music are important to him. As a child in the 80s, these inoffensive TV show themes, these Bacharach-composed soft rock ballads, these crass sax-driven funk and soul-influenced pop songs were your world. For those of us who share those memories, this is the album we've been waiting for.
I have been sitting on the sidelines for the last ten years, looking for the album where I could finally understand where M83 was coming from. This album was it. I can't stop listening.
However, the CD packaging is one of the worst I've ever seen. The CD seemed to be permanently locked into the plastic holder within the case. Normally, by pressing down in the center, it releases the tension, and the CD is free to be removed. Not the case, here (pun intended... groan.) Seriously, I have been buying CDs since 1986, and it took 5 minutes to get the CD removed from it's case tray. It involved bending and almost unintentionally destroying the CD itself. When it finally was removed, the paper digi-case was torn, and the plastic base cracked.
Mute records, you have signed a great artist, you should improve your design of the physical CD.
The M83 catalogue is unique in that each record stands on its own , rather beautifully, yet, in hindsight, is a step towards something else. Occasionally those steps are not as easy to identify, as in Saturdays=Youth , but in the context of the catalogue, end up making perfect sense.
I commend Anthony on trying something different. My concern is that as a standalone piece, this feels cheap, rushed, and banking on nostalgia for a mixture that never quite existed, and frankly I'm not sure it should. Secondly, as a piece of music in a body of overall work, I don't understand where it fits. I may look back and see that it makes perfect sense, that it's the record that sets up something truly great. We can't know now. What I do know now, is that I will never look at this as a brilliant record on its own.
Try it for yourself, just don't be surprised if you don't like it.
Favorite Song: Moon Crystal