Review Summary: M83’s endeavor into the not-so-unknown is a disappointing one
Usually, there is an artistic direction influential bands follow that often leads to their prominence and brilliance. This pattern’s progression begins with a conventional song-structure or aesthetic, an aesthetic that said band has mastered. After this, the pivotal step follows; the band chooses to add an experimentalism to their music, and this effort and hard work often fruitfully flowers into a sound that is influential and/or completely fresh. This might merely be an observation, but if this pattern is true, then it seems that M83 have taken a reverse direction to this pattern. With the release of Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost in 2003, M83 marked an incredible debut that was irresistibly organic and mesmerizing. With their latest effort, these staples have been thrown out of the band’s invigorating framework, and Saturday=Youth is a dissension for a band that was destined to ascend in the midst of the rising synth and unique blend of shoegaze- sounds that would suggest at something more, something better.
Unfortunately, with Saturday=Youth, M83 chooses to add an element of pop to their otherwise insanely catchy brand of electronica, and with this the sublime simplicity of their sound is all forgotten, with the listeners scurrying for the pieces left. Shades of the shoegaze are roughly drawn around the edges of the album, lacking any attempt at symmetrical artistry whatsoever. Much of the music here remains to be vibrant and colourful, but is marred down by the insistence to include 80’s era synth influences. This approach, mixed with the ethereal vocal melodies via various guest musicians, makes the music want to go in seemingly strange directions. “Up!” is an attempt to include song structures over an unbelievably ethereal vocal melody (which is as annoying as it is awkward) and the results are cheesier than actually inspiring or uplifting. Whereas some of the songs on “Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost” evolved from one major chord to the next, M83 latches on to this technique but executes it haphazardly, leading some tracks teetering on the brink of sloppy embarrassment.
This fact is ironic, seeing that the production leads one to believe that M83’s shiny and uplifting sound would be honed. This sloppiness can be credited to the song-writing, which is sub-par and is a leading factor to Saturdays=Youth’s disappointing qualities. While it distances itself from the frenzied and claustrophobic sounds of previous efforts, the irony of Saturdays=Youth lies here. The direction M83 is taking leans toward a more concrete sound, one with traditional song-structures; ironically the music is easily the sloppiest M83 has ever released, going in places the band needn’t venture and the results are as lacking as could be. Few of the songs feature the familiar ‘wall of sound’ concept M83 has been known for, but what made this wall of noise so captivating and worthwhile was the band’s insistence on keeping things simple- to keep things raw with emotion. Instead, M83 chooses to replace this youthful rawness with something more ‘emotional’, and with this the album looses any semblance of emotion- with only the emotion of disappointment being evoked. Only the lead single “Couleurs” “We own the Sky” and “Highway of Endless Dreams” maintains something interesting; “Highway of Endless Dreams” brings back the beautiful and dreamy soundscapes of Dead Cities…, and it succeeds through its simplicity. Meanwhile, the repetitive nature of “Couleurs” eventually is grating, but the sense of optimism emanating from it saves it. The use of melancholic piano sections are permeated slightly throughout the album, and this approach works partially on the opener “You Appearing”, which slowly then drifts into a completely different direction, an element that leads many of the songs inconsistent.
And while most bands needn’t to be chastised for going into directions foreign to them, M83’s endeavor into the not-so-unknown is a disappointing one, a large mis-step for a band that was heading to great heights. Attempts are made to include sprawling soundscapes in the ambient drone of “Midnight Souls Still Remain”, which more than outstays its welcome stretching to a monotonous 11 minutes, with little to no variation- leaving the soundscape as a two dimensional piece rather than a piece of art M83 is oh so capable of. M83’s pattern of progression might have had them touted as the electronica equivalent of My Bloody Valentine, but what M83 lacks is the unending hard work and innovation that made the aforementioned band influential; a pivotal step missing in the path to becoming influential. Sound familiar to you?