M83 Saturdays=Youth

[Mute; 2008]

Styles: electronic, synth, shoegaze
Others: Jesus and Mary Chain, Slowdive

Full disclosure: I hate the vast majority of things that are typically ’80s. In that vein, bad omens surrounded the release of this latest album by M83, a band I once loved intensely. Anthony Gonzalez' one-man band actually cites groups like Tears for Fears and -- I shit you not -- John Hughes movies such as The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles as inspiration for this work.


After a dreamy, piano-centric table-setter, Gonzalez dives headlong into ’80s synth-pop territory with "Kim and Jessie." As I suspected, the elements I loved about M83 are now barely recognizable. The complex arrangements and structures, the experimental edge, the gorgeous instrumentals of the past now substituted for dumbed-down, verse-chorus-verse songs. A track later, "Graveyard Girl" kicks me while I'm down. Again, all I hear is a predictable ’80s single. Like a John Hughes movie, I’m only able to appreciate it ironically. The piece ends with a spoken-word interlude of horrible high-school-goth-girl poetry that just about triggers my gag reflex:

"I'm gonna jump the walls and run/ I wonder if they'll miss me/ I won't miss them/ The cemetery is my home/ I want to be a part of it/ Invisible to the night/ Then I'll read poetry to the stones/ Maybe one day I could be one of them…/ Wise and silent/ … I'm 15 years old/ And I feel it's already too late to live/ Don't you?"

These words could easily have been doodled on the side of Ally Sheedy’s notebook during Saturday detention in Shermer, Illinois. I understand that the youthful naiveté of the ’80s serves as a running theme, but does that really justify these terrible lyrics? Bad teenage poetry isn’t usually glorified for a reason: It’s bad. Why even attempt such a spoken-word section? “Graveyard Girl” was doomed from conception.

The final song, “Midnight Souls Still Remain,” is a lengthy instrumental, hinting at what I used to enjoy about M83. But I’m deflated again, as all Gonzalez does with this blank canvas for electronic experimentation is cycle two chords over and over with a little synth sprinkled on top. It's one of several half-hearted instances in which Gonzalez fails to recapture the old magic.

Back when Nicolas Fromageau made up the other half of M83, they attracted critical acclaim with Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts, still one of my favorite records. Its sound is huge, structures intricate, and sequencing immaculate, achieving one of the more difficult tasks of electronic music: remaining human and full of emotion. The sterile, cerebral approach is to be appreciated, but it is much easier to accomplish; being creative within the genre without sacrificing the ability to be moving, however, is a feat at which I still marvel. But now with Gonzalez at the helm, Saturdays=Youth no longer resembles the band I used to love. Perhaps Fromageau, who seems to have vanished from the planet since leaving the band, did the heavy lifting and/or balanced Gonzalez' simplistic tendencies. One thing of which I am certain: the frustration I feel with M83 since Fromageau left can only be soothed by one thing – I’ve got to find my copy of Dead Cities.

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