M83 not so trashy with newest album “Junk”

When I heard this opening track as the single released to precede M83’s al­bum, I couldn’t stop wondering what the hell this band I thought I knew were going to go for on their new release. I know now that this release simply does not try to fit with the band’s signature “sound.” French bandleader Anthony Gonzalez told BBC Radio 1 that be­cause the band’s last album (2011’s “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”) was their most successful, he didn’t feel any pressure–for this release, he told himself to “do whatever you wanna do… just experiment and have fun with your music and just put it out.” And so they did.

On introductory listens, it seems that the opener “Do It, Try It” would be better if the last minute or so was chopped off or other­wise greatly affected. However, the repetition of the song’s mantric lyrics hugely reminds me of two of my favorite recent albums. Even beyond the fact that each of these recent al­bums gets their inspiration from classic ’70s and ’80s music (and ergo share some musical elements), they both start out with sparse­ly-worded, groovy and instructive songs: French electronic bretherin Daft Punk’s Ran­dom Access Memories preached, “Let the mu­sic in tonight / Just turn on the music / Let the music of your life / Give life back to music,” and Tame Impala’s “Currents” made listeners succumb to “letting” a tripping titan of a track to “happen” to them just to get into the album.

The best part of “Do It, Try It” is actual­ly in its simple lyrics, and the way Anthony Gonzalez sings them: “Listen to the sound / Of a new tomorrow.” In between each line of the chorus, you can almost hear the titular line of the opening song on Tame Impala’s album (“Let It Happen”). Hell, even the title and sentiment are the same! Throughout this review, I’ll recommend thinking of those two other albums as a reference point for any that have heard them. Particularly with “Currents” (being that M83 and Tame Impala are groups whose musics are substantially the work of only one person), the albums were definitely made with the same nostalgic aural vision in mind; the former focused a bit more heavily on bass grooves, whereas this album comes more overtly with its synths.

It may seem I’m reaching the hyperbol­ic singularity, but since “Currents” reminds me of music John Lennon might have started making had he gotten to live through the ’80s, then “Junk” often sounds more Paul-y–delib­erately child-like and powerful with both ro­mance and the “cheese.”

An obvious facet of this album must be the influence of huge artists the group heard while growing up in this time. If you’re a fan of classic rock greats like Pink Floyd, you can’t not appreciate details like the synth on “Walkaway Blues”–that moment around 1:39 sounds like a few seconds ripped from “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” or something.

The opening drum hits of “Bibi the Dog” seem an exact replica of Daft Punk’s “Short Circuit,” yet the song itself struts like any of the R.A.M. material (though maybe if Daft set their sights just a handful of years ahead). There are beautiful melodies that you might have heard somewhere in a Steely Dan album.

The more-hopeful-and-happy-than-any­one-could-ever-be “Moon Crystal” shines like many of the era’s brightest–as you listen to this song, I reckon you should try and count how many artists you can hear in it who’ve made something similar-sounding. Some immediate ones on my list include M.J., The Bee-Gees, Bill Withers, Chicago and defi­nitely stuff like Spyro Gyra. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” though this is espe­cially flattering on this unabashed album-long pastiche.

I don’t want to spoil the cavalcade of sweets you’ll find on this album, but I will brace you for them: this album is cheesy, schmaltzy, sil­ly or whatever funny adjective you want to throw at it [Though the creator might have beat you to that punch ;) ]. But there is beau­ty in such schmaltz–why do you think a ge­nius like Paul McCartney would give us the occasional bouncy music hall number or an album like “McCartney II”? There is an inno­cent, playful and obviously nostalgic essence in such music, and so embracing it and all its potential “cheese” is exactly what gives it its charm when resurrected on releases like “Junk” (the fact that it also shares the title of a McCartney song…ring the conspiracy siren}.

Just like that McCartney album, Gonza­lez seems like a kid in a synth candy shop on here–a Pitchfork interview states that he wonders what his career would have been like had he been around in those decades instead. “There were so many new horizons then,” so many keyboards with sounds you could morph! I think the kid-like ideal is important to this album, what with the album cover of some galactic pals and their Earthly fast food, and even a track that is “For the Kids.”

The dullest moments on this album are actually in the tracks that stick less to its “theme.” “Laser Gun” and “Road Blaster” don’t “wow,” and the former’s chorus sounds too close to that of Gorillaz’ “Rhinestone Eyes.” Beyond this, the only other substantial gripe occurs with tracks that sound close enough to others on the album that they could have been combined to make grander wholes, like the hook of “Bibi the Dog” in place of (or mixed with) the chorus for “Laser Gun,” or if Antho­ny’s solo “Solitude” was a duet with Susanne Sundfør on the preceding “For the Kids.” That latter example is particularly upsetting since this exact idea is used to gorgeous effect on “Atlantique Sud” late in the album.

Like any album–be it good, bad or other­wise–you can find a lot of hate for this one when asking people online. All I will tell you to keep in mind is the fact that something that “sounds like an ’80s sitcom intro” is not some automatic slight to its quality. Retro is still cool; “nostalgia” will always be a positive emotion–it’s part of the definition. The adage goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s trea­sure,” and you, listener, shouldn’t find it hard to discover the latter.

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