Music

M83: Digital Shades Vol. 1

M83's first in a series of ambient works is a hazy, inconsistent affair that is best suited to fill in as your latest rainy day soundtrack.


M83

Digital Shades Vol. 1

Label: Mute
First date: 2007-09-10
US Release Date: 2008-10-28
UK Release Date: Available as import
Website
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Last year was a big one for M83-mastermind Anthony Gonzalez. While he had certainly caught the eye (and ear) of music critics and shoegaze-aholics with his previous works, it's safe to say Saturdays=Youth thrust him further into the indie-spotlight. Though he had dropped jaws with the spectacular Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts and other efforts, none of them were as poignant or focused as his latest. And singles like "Kim & Jessie" and "Graveyard Girl" further drove that point home. With cuts like that, Gonzalez had successfully proven he can create more than a brilliantly textured soundscape. These were perfectly structured songs that were both far-reaching and grounded, resulting in shoegaze-cum-'80s-pop perfection. And, above all that, Saturdays=Youth displayed a progression both in style and songwriting.

It's for all those reasons that it comes as a surprise that Mute decided to re-release Digital Shades: Vol. 1 now. Even though it is understood that this record represents the first of what should be a collective series of ambient works, it might fall on deaf ears without the proper marketing. Newer M83 fans will likely be confused by an album completely void of percussion and with brief instances of vocals. On the other hand, his seasoned listeners are sure to embrace this, an exercise in minimalism almost entirely comprised of synths, which evoke sounds ranging from UFO transmissions to church organs. So, as you can tell, this album is not for everyone. Also, it's not at all indicative of what you would hear on a conventional M83 release. But, those thoughts aside, this first volume of Digital Shades is worth your time if you are looking for a twist on New Age or a new soundtrack to a rainy night or a mellow afternoon.

The 10-track, 35-minute album, which offers very little in the way of variation, is best summed up by its final and longest track, "The Highest Journey". Although it differs from others by being piano-driven, the cut falls in line with the rest when those familiar synths soar into your ears. It might chug along for some listeners who aren't fond of eight-minute songs, but it's easily worth your time, especially when Gonzalez layers in choral vocals to build the track to even greater heights. Yet, it hits its peak when everything suddenly cuts at the end. It might seem odd that the finest point of the album is its conclusion, but Gonzalez pulls it off so well that it would be foolish to not recognize this wonderfully-executed sudden drop. Other tracks carrying the weight of "The Highest Journey" include "Coloring the Void" and "My Own Strange Path". "Coloring the Void" might just be the most breathtaking piece on here solely based on the emotional build Gonzalez crafts with incoherent vocal loops and a deafening wall of sound. The aptly-titled "My Own Strange Path", which equates to what sounds like an alien abduction, features what might be a muted guitar that adds a necessary sense of percussion. As bizarre as it might seem, it's actually the strange amalgam of noise that makes the track stand out from the bunch.

Too often the songs on here lose their identity, which might not matter if you are using this as a means of relaxing. But as an album, the lack of variety and all-too-familiar tones take away from the listening experience. Moody tracks like the (obviously) beach-friendly "Waves, Waves, Waves" and the gloomy "Dancing Mountains" are intriguing on the first and second playthrough. As you continue playing them, though, they lose what substance they had. The same goes for the first and second parts of "Sister", with the latter featuring laughably-childish and simple lyrics. Musically, they are solid enough to not be deemed weak or lackluster, but their droning repetition can grow tiresome. And it's that feeling that makes it difficult to recommend this to anyone that is not an absolute M83 fiend. While it stands up as a nice collection instrumental works, it's not one that will beg for repeated listens. But, in the end, this is an M83 record and, as expected, it's still a fine one at that. Just don't pop it in expecting the same type of rush achieved by his other works.

6


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.