Simultaneously lauded and criticized for its pragmatic nature, the simplistic dramatics found on M83’s second album, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, remain a lead staple at the center of their desired sound. On Before the Dawn Heals Us, the dreamy and subdued follow-up to their critical smash, the French duo seems to effortlessly expand on their apparent gift for atmospheric beauty and tonal resonance. The result is one of the most aesthetically permeating albums likely to be released this year.
M83’s collective personality has always been largely evocative of the shoegazer movement prevalent in the early ’90s — perhaps taking their most apparent cue from My Bloody Valentine. They have a rather poignant ability to caustically build melodic grace, comprised mostly of white noise and aural outlines, and transform it into a sonic splendor that is seldom matched at such a successful level. Before the Dawn Heals Us becomes something of an anomaly through out its duration. Realistically, the album has no low points. Stranger still is that it has no high points. Rather, it is one complete and continuous work that can only be observed as a whole. The way that each song always tends to build into something else, compounded with the way that all of the tracks seemingly bleed into one another; it really is a marvel in terms of pacing and overall fluidity.
While sometimes pondering, or even a bit too slow, Before the Dawn Heals Us is never tedious. It has a seamless personality behind the overblown melodrama that, despite its ambiguity, is both fascinating and beautiful. The album starts off in just the right way with the plotless hallucination “Moonchild”. For nearly five minutes, the track sails on an endless sea in cinematic fashion, perfectly setting the tone for the rest of the album. The sparse and lifeless vocals used in this introduction foreshadow the depleted but integral role vocalization is to play on the album. Here, the fact that M83 uses vocal work at all — more importantly, the way they use it — is indicative of their apparent desire build upon their already established character.
As the album moves into its second and third acts, M83 turns up the eccentricities a bit with vocal adventures and cricket chirps to boot. Sometimes the production feels a bit bogged down when the elements don’t gel together quite as well as expected. Furthermore, the (sometimes) fruitless experimentation evident throughout Before the Dawn Heals Us can, at times, find itself an odd second to its predecessor. Nevertheless, M83’s prowess (be it hit or miss) is usually countered by staggering control. Admittedly, there are some notable missteps, but nothing as to suggest irrevocable damage to the album’s sheen.
The album closes with the dazed reflection “Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun”. Soaked in the grandeur that sweeps the album, it implies a beautiful close to a bittersweet opus of malaise and wonder. Like M83’s previous album, you can’t simply listen to Before the Dawn Heals Us without being transported into its astral world of curiosity. It makes for thoughtful listens, as well as wonderful discoveries.