Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

M83 is back to save the universe

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As a devout cinephile, M83’s Anthony Gonzalez is certainly aware of the psychological concept of the suspension of disbelief. Essentially the part of one’s psyche that allows for buying into Crispin Glover’s George McFly coldcocking the prototypical bully Biff in Back To The Future, this phenomenon distills the essence of “little white lie” filmmaking—the larger-than-life childhood memories—essentially the fairy tales that sate us and give us hope. In the art of Gonzalez, suspension of disbelief enables the ineffable notion that art is incorporeal, transcending mundane suburban ennui, while paralleling cinematic magic.

Whether it’s the shoegaze romanticization of Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, the ’80s pop infatuation guiding Saturdays = Youth, or the crashing ambitions of the 2011 opus Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, Gonzalez’s work has always reminded listeners of a time when we believed in the redemptive power of music. On his newest—the pithily titled Junk—it would be easy to believe, based on the name alone, that Gonzalez has given up on the alchemical nature of pop music. Fortunately, that isn’t the case, as it’s easily M83’s most challenging, best album to date.

“Do It, Try It” evinces a ragtime piano surge, all playful cinematic jaunt before segueing into a sepulchral, hypnotic synth-anthem that sounds like something Gonzalez would hear in his life screenplay’s crucial life-altering moment. It’s likely anything but trite, though, and that’s what’s so exceptional about M83’s work: He picks and prods holes with the magic of classic indie sounds in a manner similar to the way Gus Van Sant channels Stanley Kubrick in a casual yet grandiose manner. The similarities aren’t there on the surface per se, but they’re part and parcel of an undeniable lineage.

A romantic milieu guides Junk, despite its palpable disdain the disposability of pop love songs you hear on the radio. Yet throughout the album, these songs are unassumingly gorgeous and maudlin, with jarring unpredictability. “For The Kids,” with vocals by Susanne Sundfør, is redolent of Fleetwood Mac—most obviously “Landslide”—as she croons with abject longing, “When will I see her face again? / No matter how far apart we become you know that I’ll still hear your song.” Sundfør’s abject grief and regret render the song emotionally devastating, and demonstrate how adroit Gonzalez is at coaxing jaw-droppingly stunning performances from his collaborators, whether it’s profile guests such as Steve Vai and Beck on Junk, or Joey Waronker (R.E.M., Beck) and Brad Laner (Medicine) on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.

It’s easy to get the idea that, even at his relatively young age of 35, Gonzalez is wizened in a way that allows him to wade through the music industry bullshit and get to the songs. Junk can be a difficult listen at points, but Gonzalez has been given time and attracted ample collaborators due to the sheer good will of being a musician who cares about music. Listen to the fulsome piano ripples of the mellifluous, French-sung duet with Mai Lan on “Atlantique Sud,” or the dust bowl slide ripples of “Time Wind,” as Gonzalez questions, “Are the pictures real? / Want the pictures to be real.”

The song could be about any number of double entendres, but in the bizarro yet magical world of Junk, it implies a need for sincerity, the overwhelming desire to wake up in the morning with the hunger to work on your record or listen to your favorite new band. Junk, despite its cynicism, captures this sentiment with wide-eyed vulnerability, and suggests that, while Gonzalez may be frustrated with the industry in 2016, he possesses a surfeit of musical inspiration. Music (probably) can’t change the world, but maybe the people who love albums like Junk, in some small way, can.