You won’t hear another album this year that opens the way M83’s new one, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, does. From the start of its first track, appropriately titled “Intro,” it feels like you’re listening to the Eno/Lanois-produced grave and ethereal ambience that starts off U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” — that is, until hard, trademark M83 synths establish their presence. Soon, a highly distorted and digitized female voice enters to accompany the synths, whispering: “We didn’t need a story/ We didn’t need a real world/ We just had to keep walking/ And we became the stories/ We became the places/ We were the light and the deserts and the faraway worlds/ We were you before you even existed.” If you were concentrating on the words, you probably wouldn’t have noticed how the ambience and synths have amassed in volume and layers as a rhythm set the song in motion, paving the way for Anthony Gonzalez — the primary vocalist and composer responsible for M83 — to add his strongest vocals yet into the fray. When Zola Jesus’ Nika Roza Danilova finally adds her heartbreakingly beautiful vocals, one couldn’t be blamed for wondering where the music could possibly go from here. It’s as if Gonzalez attempted to put all of the most ineffable, out-of-this-world moments of his waking life into this song. No sooner is it over, however, before one hears the recognizable hook from “Midnight City,” the album’s lead single, and it becomes quite abundantly clear that Gonzalez made this a double album for a reason: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is intended to be M83’s magnum opus.
M83’s been with us now for about 10 years, and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is Gonzalez’s fifth album (or sixth, depending on whether or not one counts Digital Shades Vol. 1 as a proper album). But after listening to Hurry Up, it’s obvious that Gonzalez’s 2008 release, Saturdays=Youth, was the real turning point in M83’s sound. While the album certainly attracted new listeners, it mostly threw off older fans. Unlike Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts and Before the Dawn Heals Us — which combined his ambient electronic aesthetic with a film-soundtrack sensibility and shoegaze-inspired production — Saturdays saw Gonzalez preoccupied instead with youth, teenage culture, pop music, and the 80s. Picking up where that album left off, Hurry Up is also chock full of aesthetic homages to the pop music of the 80s. In fact, some of the tracks are so unapologetically 80s that the drastic stylistic turn taken by Gonzalez on Saturdays pales in comparison. Any suspicions that he may have been holding back before are confirmed; this is Gonzalez let loose and going fuck all.
Among the most unabashedly retro of the new songs are “Reunion,” “Claudia Lewis,” and “OK Pal.” “Reunion,” at its beginning, sounds like Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me” (complete with the evocative echoing guitar sound that bands like The Chameleons pioneered in the early 80s); “Lewis” features Gonzalez at his most Peter Gabriel-esque; and “Pal” recalls The Human League in their infancy. But what tempers the 80s pop influence from Saturdays and partially reconciles it with Gonzalez’s earlier material is the incorporation of the electronic ambient drama that first attracted listeners to M83. It can be heard most clearly in the album’s various interludes and the more ‘epic’ songs, providing a fantastic expression for the album’s vastness and grandeur. “This Bright Flash” has an energy and urgency that matches the best of M83’s more aggressive songs, with shoegaze-style guitars and a veritable electronic orchestra working in unison, plateauing at maximum climax. “New Map” successfully alternates between Gonzalez’s manipulated vocals and the electronic rock that propels “This Bright Flash.” Meanwhile, “Steve McQueen” crafts one of the most breathtaking walls of ambience I’ve ever experienced; it’s stunningly beautiful and easily one of the strongest M83 songs yet.
Because of its ambition and grandeur, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming might get criticized for its long runtime, for trying too hard to achieve aesthetic balance and thematic coherency. But it’s precisely M83’s desire to make a big artistic statement — somewhat of a rarity these days — that results in such an engrossing listen.