M83
Fantasy


3.5
great

Review

by YoYoMancuso STAFF
March 17th, 2023 | 114 replies


Release Date: 03/17/2023 | Tracklist

Review Summary: beyond adventure

Anthony Gonzalez has always been at his very best when he decides to fully surrender to his impulses and craft the most grandiose, cinematic music he can possibly muster. As M83, he has been able to fully embody this mentality on only two of his full-length releases, those being the back-to-back barnburners of Saturdays = Youth and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. The latter exploded into the mainstream in a way that made Gonzalez so uncomfortable that every M83 project since has functioned as a sort of protest to its sound and the rewards that stemmed from it. 2016’s Junk alienated and puzzled many longtime listeners, and with the exception of another entry into the ambient Digital Shades series, it’s the last we’ve heard from Gonzalez in years. Fantasy has been marketed as not only a return to M83’s towering full-band sound, but also as a return to artistic form, a claim that can readily be backed by the album’s content despite some of its obvious shortcomings.

Long before “Midnight City”, Gonzalez had been producing maximalist pop anthems that grew so large they threatened to swallow the listener underneath their waves, and Fantasy astutely opts to acquaint itself with this ethos throughout its tracklist. Tracks like “Oceans Niagara”, “Amnesia”, and “Earth To Sea” are truly larger than life, and while other examples like “Us And The Rest” and the title track may be striving a bit too hard to conjure an epic atmosphere, they are done countless favors by their string and choir arrangements, as well as Gonzalez’s genuinely flawless production. M83’s music has invariably sounded pristine throughout their career, but Fantasy exists in a separate realm from an engineering and mixing perspective; the songs are allowed to breathe and take full advantage of their dynamic range, while still maintaining enough headroom to cut through the listener like butter at each track’s apex. Fantasy’s squeaky clean presentation is undoubtedly impressive, although it may betray some of the album’s deeper issues if one pays close enough attention. Could it be considered a problem that the technical brilliance of Fantasy occasionally overshadows its songwriting, or that its bells and whistles could even be covering over some weakly envisioned music?

Don’t get it twisted; Fantasy isn’t some terrible album disguised in a trench coat, so much as it’s a good album wearing a great album’s skin. Most of the tracks I mentioned in the previous paragraph are infectious and worthy additions to the M83 discography; “Amnesia” in particular is noteworthy due to the way it propels itself forward with effortless modulations, layered harmonies, and its beautiful guest vocals. Other late album highlights like the stunning “Laura” and “Sunny Boy” show absolutely zero restraint and pack in wall upon wall of guitars and vocal tracks, overstimulating the listener in a magnificent way that only Gonzalez can. On the flip side of this coin, the acoustic “Radar, Far, Gone” can be considered a rare success of M83’s softer side. While the track does contain a slight crescendo at its conclusion, its rising action is more based on melodic sophistication, playing with modal ideas and intricate vocal lines in its final minute. This lavish melodic movement has long been the cornerstone of every great M83 track; it’s why “Midnight City”’s earworm of a keyboard riff has skyrocketed it to nearly a billion plays on Spotify, and why “Wait” and “Outro” are still used in approximately 50% of American advertisements. Gonzalez is clearly capable of constructing unforgettable melodies, which is why it’s so frustrating to witness yet another handful of stagnant, go-nowhere, do-nothing tracks accompanying his better work on a tracklist riddled with inconsistencies.

Let’s circle back to “Oceans Niagara” real quick, Fantasy’s lead single and a track that has been lauded by critics and fans alike as “a return to the old M83.” I couldn’t understand this less. While prelude “Water Deep” serves as an atmospheric and foreboding overture for coming attractions, “Oceans Niagara” falls flat on its face by being incredibly over the top, yet failing to go anywhere of importance. It’s completely sterile and devoid of any harmonic movement, and not even the rhythmic complexities of its unison sections can save it. Similar ailments befall the nearly eight-minute “Kool Nuit”, which devolves into some sort of sea shanty about the halfway point, and “Deceiver”, a song that surely made its way onto the record as an instrumental before Gonzalez strangely decided to add two pointless verses at the 5-minute mark of a 6-minute piece of music. Decisions like these contribute to Fantasy’s overall sense of being maddeningly disjointed, which is only reinforced by tracks like aimless closer “Dismemberment Bureau” or the staggering amount of instrumental intros to tracks that turn out to be completely separate ideas from the song that succeeds them.

Fantasy isn’t so much a coherent album as it is a trek through Anthony Gonzalez’s aural house of mirrors, and his work on this record proves that he still has numerous potent tricks up his sleeve. Its runtime houses a handful of the most memorable bangers of M83’s career, while simultaneously demonstrating that Gonzalez is more than capable of penning a captivating softer song under the M83 name. Production and engineering nerds will likely continue to bow at M83’s altar in the wake of Fantasy’s release, as it stands head and shoulders with Caroline Polachek’s record as some of the most spotlessly produced music I’ve heard in my lifetime, let alone this year. Gonzalez unfortunately continues to struggle with cohesion and distilling his musical ideas down to their most valuable elements, but his latest full-length is an undeniable improvement over his mid-late 2010’s output, and hopefully the beginning of a long upward trajectory for the M83 brand.



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user ratings (100)
3.4
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
March 17th 2023


18878 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

if this dude could just rein it in every once in a while, he'd probably be one of my top 10-15 favorite artists

foxblood
March 17th 2023


11159 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

damn that was fast!

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
March 17th 2023


18878 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

hahahaha i listened to Chapter 1 a lot this week and then just binged the second half a few times in a row

Sowing
Moderator
March 17th 2023


43963 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

You're staff now; just tell them you've had a promo for 3 months whether it's true or not ;-)



Going to read this review soon but I will probably disagree with the 3.5. I'm more than halfway through the album and it's sound like one of M83's best.

JohnZapp
March 17th 2023


164 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Really loved what I listened to on first play. Need a few more spins to give a score, but yea love the return to form

Faraudo
March 17th 2023


4641 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yoooo this is excellent, glad to have new, quality M83

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
March 17th 2023


18878 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Glad to see some positive reactions to this, I don’t think it maintains its strength for the entire album but there are some ridiculous peaks

Sowing
Moderator
March 17th 2023


43963 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

One of the best albums of 2023 so far. This is outstanding.

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 17th 2023


60600 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

agreed very firmly with the penultimate paragraph on all counts, but also bad karma for slamming maybe the only here that makes a serious (if way protracted) effort to vary the tone and ramp up some intrigue (Kool Nuit)



album is a slow-release panoramic fart and i can't wait to see how many tv ads it makes it to

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
March 17th 2023


18878 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

if you’re in this thread I’ve already got all the bad karma I need wink emoji

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 17th 2023


60600 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

if someone as disorganised as me is your agent of karma, it means you're probably long overdue on other counts too

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
March 17th 2023


5922 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

My first listen impression was that the first half of this is quite impressive but it loses major momentum in the second half

Sowing
Moderator
March 17th 2023


43963 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

The second half is more laid back but IMO just as beautiful. My only concern right now is whether or not the melodies will be memorable enough for me to want to play this on repeat. But the atmosphere is absolutely breathtaking. Feels like an even lusher and dreamier Hurry Up but with less concrete hooks.

Sowing
Moderator
March 18th 2023


43963 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Amnesia is a contender for my new favorite M83 song

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
March 18th 2023


18878 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

it's the clear highlight imo

Sowing
Moderator
March 18th 2023


43963 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Lots of highlights for me but I do agree that one is tops



This might actually be my AOTY to this point



Edit: and this review is great! If you haven't geeked out over seeing your review on Metacritic yet then you should ;-)

pizzamachine
March 18th 2023


27283 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Good album but no Kamelot.

markjamie
March 18th 2023


724 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

There is a lot here I like, but I just can't shake this feeling that it's recycled... defunct even. It's a nostalgic feeling, but not a good one. I'll listen a few more times to see if I can shake it, but honestly, right now I prefer Junk.

neekafat
Staff Reviewer
March 18th 2023


26236 Comments

Album Rating: 3.1

honestly anyone disappointed in this just check out the new No Devotion alb

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 18th 2023


60600 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

not the good neek take i expected to see itt, but will take those wins where they come



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