REVIEW: M83 Reach The Stratosphere with ‘Junk’

Nearly five years since French synthpop astronauts M83 blew everybody’s lids off and finally broke worldwide after ten long years with the gloriously galactic-sized goosebump-giver Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, few would envy the expectations placed upon mastermind Anthony Gonzalez and his band of merry electronic visionaries for whatever was to come next. They’ve dabbled in movie soundtracks and re-released their entire (heretofore largely unheard) back catalogue since then, all the while the world waiting patiently for album number seven.

The wait finally ends today, that next record Junk finally released. Does it stack up to Hurry Up? Was it possible? Was that even their intention?

Well, yes and no. Where Hurry Up was a seemingly limitless, sprawling effort across two discs and 22 tracks, many of them instrumental interludes, Junk is a condensed effort by comparison, one disc and 15 tracks, the entire effort a full 20 minutes shorter.

Where Hurry Up threw back to some of the cheesy sounds of the 1980s, somehow taking elements from a bygone era growing mouldy in the crypt, dusting them off and using them to make us feel again, Junk digs back even further, adopting the sounds of the 1970s and creating songs that sound like Barry Manilow or Bread could be singing effortlessly over them. Walkway Blues with its dramatic chorus and a saxophone that swaggers across the track and new collaborator Mai Lan‘s almost Debbie Harry-like turn on Bibi The Dog are early examples of this new direction. Solitude sounds like David Bowie re-imagining a Chicago ballad with a keytar solo that is up there for the most blazing in the history of keytars, the orchestral strings around it only adding to the sheer size of the song.

Gonzalez also confessed to being inspired  (somehow) by sitcoms like Punky Brewster and Who’s The Boss and instrumental Moon Crystal could be the opening credits theme to either of them. For The Kids opens like a soap opera dream sequence from the same era, guest vocalist Susanne Sundfør hammering home some classic power ballad emotions over a mournful sax.

Go! is one of the clear standouts. Huge, grandiose and swirling with some of the most uplifting production you’ll hear. On top of that, the assists coming from Mai Lan on some powerful vocals and, out of nowhere, guitar virtuoso Steve Vai going in with a screamer of a guitar solo to play out the track. Two songs in and this is perhaps the most mammoth moment on the entire record.

Instrumental interlude The Wizard starts off submerged underwater before breaching in sublime fashion. Laser Gun is positively jaunty, another sizzling cameo from Mai Lan over some beautifully-layered backbeats. Road Blaster following immediately after wouldn’t sound out of place on a Phil Collins-era Genesis album. Tension does nothing but ease it, slowing things down and shimmering.

Atlantique Sud is Mai Lan’s curtain call, warbling over orchestral strings and horns in French ever so dreamily. Surprise guest Beck features on the funky, piano-driven Time Wind, the late 70s soul vibes never more tangible. There’s a whispery instrumental interlude in Ludivine before the album ends, almost bittersweetly, on Sunday Night 1987, a low harmonica playing out the final strains of what has been a remarkable record.

If Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was M83 blasting off, Junk is the band floating serenely in the upper stratosphere. They’ve branched out from their last record, streamlined the entire experience and melded stylistic elements both old and new to create what is overall an almost breathtaking experience. In a singles-dominated musical landscape, Junk stands on its own as an album much better enjoyed in its entirety, no mean feat.

Most importantly of all, it’s another record from M83 that truly makes you feel.

Image: Pitchfork