M83: Mediocre ‘Junk’

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M83: Mediocre ‘Junk’

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When listening to M83’s new album, “Junk,” I could not help but think about the VH1 show that used to play nonstop, “I Love the ‘80s.” From the opening notes of “Do It, Try It”, I imagined people wearing paper 3-D glasses, watching films directed by John Hughes and eating pop rocks. After all, the bouncing piano lines sound like they were demos from Supertramp’s song “Goodbye Stranger.” This album continues a trend of large name-acts going back in time for their inspiration. Taylor Swift had “1989,” an entire album titled and inspired by her birth year, Bleachers’ sound could have been imported straight from the ‘80s, and countless artists have been making the synthesizer cool again. Up against M83, however, all of these examples are miniscule in their pull of inspiration from the past. “Junk” legitimately makes you feel as if you took Bill and Ted’s time machine back thirty-five years, for better or for worse.

The album is the follow up to 2011’s masterpiece “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming,” and unfortunately does not show M83 at their best. It starts with the one-two punch of “Do It, Try It” and “Go!” On “Do It,” the thumping bass line keeps the song running up to the climactic chorus, which is guaranteed to make you want to get up and dance. “Go!” keeps the synthesizer center stage (as does most of M83’s music), but is all one giant build up to Steve Vai – who some may say is the ‘80s personified – and his nothing less than epic guitar solo that ends the song. The song features countdowns from ten to one, which is unfortunately a similar outline as to how one might rate the album as they listen to it. While that may be a bit drastic of a claim, after the first two songs, the album quickly takes a drop-off into a zone between “enjoyable background music” and “easily forgettable.” The first track on the album that signifies it is not anything spectacular is “Moon Crystal,” which could quite possibly be used as hold music for a telephone call. This two-minute snooze fest is followed by “For The Kids” and “Solitude,” two of the better songs on the album that sound as if M83 is trying too hard to recapture the magic of songs from “Hurry Up”—“Wait” and “Outro”—while coming out as a fraction of the quality of what the original songs are.

The second half of the album is not overly terrible; it is just incredibly blasé. Gone are the memorable drums of “Kim & Jessie”, or the slow, yet danceable jams of “We Own The Sky.” Now, it is songs like “The Wizard” or “Laser Gun,” which all seem to blend together to create one stretch of music in which the synthesizer is predominantly used as a cheesy shtick, as opposed to a vessel for creating dance music, which is what it should be. The only thing that breaks the album’s second-half lull is “Atlantique Sud,” which is unique only in the fact that M83’s mastermind, Anthony Gonzalez, is singing in French, his native tongue. Though it is also a slow, mostly forgettable song, it is a nice change of pace that is more than needed.

The one saving grace about the album being a bit of a drag is that it will be transformed in a live setting. M83 is notorious for being an incredible live act, and was universally praised at Coachella this past weekend. Take into account the trippy visuals that will be present, and the full band playing out these songs and it makes it much easier to settle with the fact that “Junk” cannot hold up against “Hurry Up.” The band is making the rounds at festivals this summer, where they have been playing only two tracks from the new album. At club shows, they have been playing more from “Junk,” including some of the songs that could be classified as junk, yet I am confident that even the weakest of the songs from this album can become an incredible experience to witness in the flesh. That is part of Anthony Gonzalez’s magic. Even in a situation where he’s put out his weakest music to date, there is a silver lining.