[15 December 2011]
I’ve been admiring M83 from a cautious distance for the past few years. Though I’ve made the effort to grab all of the band’s records, and though I have seen it live once, I’ve tended to remain on the proverbial fence about the group. More often than not, M83’s Anthony Gonzalez gets it right. However, it has always seemed that for every one of those times where he got it right—for every “Teen Angst”, “Gone”, or “Graveyard Girl”—there were at least several moments when he inconceivably missed the mark. Take your pick: “Car Chase Terror”, “Midnight Souls Still Remain”, and, yes, a good chunk of “Beauties Can Die”. All of them seem to suffer from either a stupefying lack of inspiration or, perhaps paradoxically, too much inspiration. In either case, tracks like those were enough to make me a bit guarded whenever news would break about a new M83 release.
So, back a few months, when the reports about M83’s forthcoming double album went viral, I immediately expected it to be a bloated, shambling mess. After all, Gonzalez was readily admitting that he had taken his cues from the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which is a bloated, shambling mess.
Wow. Was I ever wrong… about the M83 record Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, that is. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is still is a bloated, shambling mess.
Given that many music publications, PopMatters included, will no doubt be highlighting this record in their end-of-the-year features, I’m going to avoid a track-by-track discussion of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Though, if you’re really into that sort of thing, then listen (at least) to all of these: “Reunion”, “This Bright Flash”, “Steve McQueen”, “New Map”, “Klaus I Love You”, and “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire”.
Rather, what concerns me here is modest amount of snark that Gonzalez’s more confident vocal performance on the album has stirred up. Quite rightly, I suppose, that snark has been directed primarily at one of the album’s signature lines: “The city is my church”. Sure, the line is a bit clunky, and, for better and for worse, it is delivered with the heart-on-sleeve earnestness of a teenage poet. Nevertheless, that singular moment from theLP’s lead single, “Midnight City”, simultaneously embodies everything that is brilliant about Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming while, in some ways, absolving M83 of the sins of records past. Here, with an album that pushes Gonzalez’s vocals to the forefront for the first time, we have an M83 work that perfectly matches style with execution, resulting in an ethereal, but muscular, aesthetic that remains grounded even as it traverses everywhereplace.
Since Gonzalez has to a degree evolved—or, perhaps more fittingly, hopped—out of the ooze of post-Loveless shoegaze, it has made a certain amount of sense that his previous efforts found him mumbling relatively oblique lyrics underneath the sheets of computerized keyboard clamor that he would layer atop each other. After all, the great legacy of shoegaze (and its immediate forebearer styles) has been to inspire bands to rethink the centrality of vocals in rock performance. However, to date, the trap for Gonzalez has been that his appropriation of that particular mode of signing has propelled him perilously close to kitschy affectation. Though Gonzalez might have been sincerely inspired by early-1990s Creation Records and Cocteau Twins, his interpretations of those aesthetics have never been entirely sincere, and, ironically enough, they have often emphasized what M83’s music isn’t, as opposed to what it is. No matter how hard it might try, “Skin of the Night” will never be “Lorelei” .
On this new record, though, Gonzalez for once seems entirely comfortable being himself—yelping, chanting, sighing, and actually singing (!) at will. While some might quibble that a sizable 60% or so of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is mired in misdirected nostalgia for the 1980s—“Claudia Lewis” pretty much hammers home that argument—the album’s backward-looking gaze doesn’t necessarily mean that Gonzalez is entirely beholden to the specters of the past. (And in fairness, if we’re going to go after M83 for that kind of veneration, then can someone, somewhere take Fleet Foxes down a peg or two?) Instead, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming finds Gonzalez finally owning his music. This record is his. He built it. He is the architect. The city is his church. The rest of us better testify.
Again, I’m not ignoring Gonzalez’s deep debt to neon-hued New Wave and its various permutations. However, I maintain that his willingness to act more as a conductor, rather than as a consumer, suggests that he has begun controlling his influences, arranging them into something greater than themselves. No longer is Gonzalez burying hooks (or lack thereof) beneath endlessly and pointlessly looped keyboard riffs. No longer is Gonzalez (always) deferring to canned, pre-recorded monologues to communicate his ideas for him. Indeed, no longer does Gonzalez seem vulnerable to the weight of music history. Instead, he shatters that history, rebuilding it into a kaleidoscopic projection of future electronica. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming plays like a kind of sonic stained glass. The seams between its stylistic influences are still noticeable, but those influences have been assembled purposefully under the guidance of a greater logic. The end result is a gorgeous record that is executed with determination and precision—a dreamworld animated to astonishingly exhilarating ends.
Speaking to Pitchfork‘s Ryan Dombal in October 2011, Gonzalez said that he became a musician as a teenager because music “accepts [his] mistakes”. Furthermore, he emphasized how, from a creative standpoint, his work represents a retreat into the imaginary (“The imaginary world is so much more powerful than real life, and I don’t really want to be bothered by real life. I would rather live in an imaginary world forever.”).
At a time when groups like Animal Collective have become representative of Important Indie Music, it’s quite easy to be cynical about their contemporaries citing adolescence as the most influential part of their personal and professional development. In fact, it’s about time that a cranky music critic starts interrogating the creepiness that is Western indie’s incessant adolescence fetish. Regardless, what is always impressive and refreshing about Gonzalez is that he seems to approach his work with the kind of wide-eyed enthusiasm that so many of us, as listeners, hope to feel whenever we hear a record (or two) that is particularly moving. Why else do we listen to music in the first place?
Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is an album that is not just about the joys of making music but is the joy of making music. It’s an album about thinking big, gesticulating wildly. It’s an album about transformation, finding faith, shifting desire, killing rainbows (whatever that means), and carrying on—pushing not just forward but outward to everywhere all at once. There are no limits to that kind of reach, nor should there be. Cities can be churches; your mommy can be your daddy. We can imagine a time when we are all frogs. And when we overreach and come off as naïve, goofy romantics, then that’s okay, too.
Go on. Give in to it. Trust me, it’s never felt so good to let your guard down.