M83: Saturdays=Youth

Anthony Gonzalez revisits his youth affectionately, but without the angst.



Label: Mute
US Release Date: 2008-04-15
UK Release Date: 2008-04-14

Saturdays=Youth is Anthony Gonzalez' postcard to his teenage years. The fifth studio album from M83 has been built up for its more solid song structures and its production team, which includes Ken Thomas (Sigur Ros, Cocteau Twins) and Ewan Pearson (the Rapture, Ladytron). Well, M83 will never get quite to straightforward radio rock, though they come close a few times on Saturdays=Youth.

The CD booklet credits not only Anthony Gonzalez but Loic Maurin on percussion, guitar, bass, and keyboards, and Morgan Kibby on vocals, piano, and keyboards. While the project is still primarily Gonzalez' own, Kibby's rich voice blends nicely with his own light tenor, and if she becomes more of a permanent resource for Gonzalez than a guest vocalist it will be a welcome addition.

Saturdays=Youth is full of the nostalgia of the memory of the kind of big, bent-out-of-shape nights that you can have often at 18, once in a while at 24, and almost never at 30. And in general, M83's shoegazey drones and layered synths are well suited to this kind of sepia-tinged memorializing. But these memories seem to be dulled somehow, and it goes along with the sound of the album. The layered guitars and keyboards are significantly toned down vis-à-vis earlier M83 work, and there's none of the bite of Before the Dawn Heals Us or the upbeat drive of Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. Instead, there's a stronger '80s vibe through much of the new album. It's in the echoing drums and the New Order synths and the whisper-over-crash shoegaze aesthetic.

As the album progresses, Gonzalez seems to realize that his strongest material is not in the imitation of straighter song forms, but in the more extended electronic atmospherics that are closer to where M83's previously been. "Couleurs" is exemplary, and part of a sequence of four songs in the middle of the disc that are among the album's most compelling. "Couleurs" is Gonzalez at his most synaesthetic – eight minutes of expansive, looping keyboards, and whooping percussion. It's easy to let yourself be lost in these overpowering textures. On straighter songs like "Up!", recognizable melodies are allowed to luxuriate for once in the foreground of the sound. That song does something interesting: the short introduction is much fuller in texture than the rest of the song, and it's never returned to – instead, the song wanders off into the looped refrain "If I clean the rocket…" with a completely different timbre. But the album's epic heart is "Too Late", a slow-growing and restrained ballad. The piano waves build and fall, as Gonzalez sings, his voice's edges smoothed out by the computer, "If you are a ghost / I'll call your name … You, always."

Still, it is a little disappointing that the point of Saturdays=Youth kind of misses the point. The more conventional "song"-like material does have something of M83's stately grandeur but feels somewhat hollow, probably because the slow-burn's integral to the act's power. And when, as on "Skin of the Night", the two songwriting methods collide, you reach a junction at which you realize that Gonzalez doesn't really know how to stretch the original idea out in that form, so that the last three minutes feel artificially tacked on. In this context the ambient, 11-minute finale also flows by without leaving much of an impression. That's fine for an entirely ambient album like Digital Shades (Vol. 1), but here it does feel like filler.

So Saturdays=Youth isn't an unqualified success, and probably won't be as warmly welcomed by fans as M83's previous albums have been. Still, there are plenty of moments on the disc that remind you why this pulsing, layered music is so powerful. Something seems to be holding Anthony Gonzalez back. Let's hope it's not a permanent retreat.





Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.


The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.


Siren Songs' Meredith Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Meredith Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.


Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.


Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.


Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.


Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.


Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.


The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.


ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.


Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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