Review Summary: A superb and underrated debut album from the French then-duo of Gonzalez and Fromageau, a cluttered and confusing but beautiful mixture of electro dance pulsations and softer, synth-laden slow-burners.
As a computerized voice recites almost incomprehensible poetry, an overwhelming electronic screech of emotion kicks in viscerally in Kelly, one of the more startling tracks on M83’s debut LP and a track with hints of what was to come from its follow-up, the magnum opus Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts. Kelly is not the first example of M83 inciting a deeply emotional response from their listener through hazy electronic noise, but it is the first time in the history of the band their music makes the listener feel sad, and while Anthony Gonzalez is wonderful at inciting joy from the most primal of feelings rooted in everlasting youth, the momentous sadness he also harbours filters through inescapably, whether in the form of droning filler (Staring At Me, My Face) or longer reflections of haunting tear-stained bad trips and gentle floating into the abyss (Facing That, Violet Tree).
Gonzalez’ use of vocal sampling lends a gentle texture to the emotional synth and feedback screeches also. The opening seconds of Staring At Me may be the first time we hear Gonzalez’ voice without effects disguising it, and his words lend an aching poignancy to the deep sadness of the track: “I was just waiting for you.” A keen film buff, Gonzalez also uses vocal samples from movies, such as Herzog’s Nosferatu (used in the disco-filling spirit-booster Night) and Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo ’66 (a lengthy monologue twisted in reverse in I’m Getting Closer).
The softness of Gonzalez’ silent pauses for contemplation is countered aggressively by he and then-musical partner Nicolas Fromageau’s passion for loud, confrontational, overwhelming noise. Arguably the album’s most listenable track, Sitting, is founded around a simple rhythm that is twisted and repeated at high speed with glitchy clicks and hums that enhance the dancefloor groove of its high-tech shoegaze insanity. Likewise, the spacey techno-pop of Slowly allows its various beeps and tweets to crash the party of a dazed and aimless synth, the ultimate acid fusion of static madness and electronic melody that declares itself distinctive M83.
If Slowly seems a little too clean and poppy for the record it finds itself on, then listen too to the remarkable She Stands Up, which is recognizably M83 yet far more restrained than anything we’ve heard so far except for two pieces of unexceptional filler near the start of the record. Its impending drumbeat and vocal sampling build then fade, leaving only the gentle strumming of a guitar, literally comparable to the air on a G string.
Overall, the album shows Gonzalez and Fromageau experimenting with sounds that differ in their levels of intensity, accessibility, magnitude and pure ecstasy. It’s a lovely twist of fate that the song titles in order spell out a small story, and as the band bring their first album to a close with the stunning I’m Happy, She Said, images of summer afternoons swept away with the tide and memories fading like the colour of old photographs come to mind, and it is not a dry, saturated aftertaste of bitter regret that is left behind, but a warm and challenging embrace of a momentous and superb future.
Best Tracks: Night, Kelly, Sitting, Violet Tree, She Stands Up
Overall Album Rating: 8.1/10