M83: Junk

What connected on a deeper emotional level with Saturday=Youth is replaced by a chasm of wonder: what in good God’s name was the band’s central idea with Junk?

M83 represents everything right and wrong with the current state of music. Since the early ’00s, the now ambiguous label, “Indie”, possesses several common factors that ties bands from Iron and Wine to Bloc Party together. First, each band reaches into the past with reverence. In the case of Iron and Wine, Sam Beam embodies the spirit of Nick Drake and Neil Young without allowing irony to plague his sound. Bloc Party, on the other hand, helped to spearhead the post-punk revival, making no bones about their obvious nods to Joy Division and Gang of Four. Each band took full advantage of their respective renewal of classic sounds, cashing in on the overwhelming nostalgia in the form of the numberless festivals.

M83 wears its religious reverence for everything good and bad about the ’80s. The obvious frontrunner to score the Blade Runner sequel, Anthony Gonzalez heralded vintage synths and John Hughes movies to establish its own wistfulness. After achieving the band’s high water mark on their incredible album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, conceiving a follow-up album that exceeds expectations is generous. “Do It Try It”, Junk’s absurdly odd first single, first appears to be a move toward eccentricity. Junk seemingly represents the band’s version of Metal Machine Music and Trans, the leap into Brechtian theatrics sounds and feels ironic. Except, it is not.

Junk bears no “Midnight City”, 2011’s obvious single of the year. The warmth of “Run Into Flowers” is mysteriously lurking on the back of a milk carton. M83’s move toward bizarre collaborations with guitar god Steve Vai and ’70s MOR adult contemporary, dentist chair soundtracks alienates fans of what endeared people to their music. “Moon Crystal” revels more in George Benson “Breezin” atmospherics, music forgotten while shopping for extra virgin olive oil in aisle nine. What connected on a deeper emotional level with Saturday=Youth is replaced by a chasm of wonder: what in good God’s name was the band’s central idea with Junk?

The spirit of Nile Rodgers finds its way on “Road Blaster”, the sole track that bears the persona of the Artist Formerly Known as Anthony Gonzalez. “Solitude” bears the complexity of M83’s production work. No note is unturned; from the pristine high hats to the keytar-esque solo that bends into fusion progressions — a far cry from the relative major/minor arrangements of the past — the track aims for something bigger than anything attempted before. “The Wizard” begins with a mono intro before exploding into Weather Channel jams, disappearing in the end without warning.

“Sunday Night 1987” reminds young and old about the dread of knowing Monday lurks around the corner. And like a forgettable weekend, the track endeavors to capture the mood until the Stevie Wonder harmonica solo destroys any hope for last minute redemption. Beck’s appearance on “Time Wind” begs for further collaborations, considering both he and M83 openly embrace the taken-for-granted funk of the mid-’80s funk resembling a Ready for the World homage.

Diehard fans will not fickly turn their backs on M83. In fact, a new M83 record is an event for them, regardless of the direction, or lack thereof, the band takes. Fans of early M83 continued to follow Gonzalez after Nicolas Fromageau’s departure. They were rewarded with Before the Dawn Heals Us. Each subsequent album failed to disappoint. Time will only tell if this peculiar off-the-grid move garners the same sort of reverence Dead Cities owns today.

RATING 5 / 10