October 26, 2011

Test Spins: M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

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It’s hard to produce a ‘80s-influenced album without having it sound cheesy, outdated or just plain boring.  However, with the release of its sixth album, M83, the electro synth-pop band from France, seems to not only bypass these common flaws, but also creates a masterful album while doing so.

M83’s new album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was streamed online on Oct. 10 through Urban Outfitters’ website and it was officially released on Oct. 18.  This 22-track double album may be M83’s most ambitious and noteworthy album yet; it appears to be a top contender for one of the best albums of 2011.

The album has a majestic quality, as M83’s Anthony Gonzalez tells a story about dreams and recounts memories of childhood, much like a film.  It has more of an orchestral sound than M83’s previous albums, paired with the introduction of new sounds, like the flute, saxophone and an array of acoustic guitars. While the album is meant to tell a story, the lyrics are often challenging to grasp and the mix of heavy instrumentals and mellow, washed-out vocals take the focus away from the words.

The attention-grabbing opening track, “Intro,” features vocals from Zola Jesus, whose whispering sounds are soon interrupted by Gonzalez’s powerful shouting. Jesus’ sensual voice becomes louder and more prevalent as the background instrumentals slowly leap into the climax, characterized by an overpowering, bombastic orchestral chorus.

The subsequent two tracks continue this excitement and draw the listener into Gonzalez’s story. “Midnight City,” the album’s first single, is the catchiest pop track on the album, featuring techno-dance beats with a domineering synthesizer and a strong ‘80s influence in a surprisingly captivating saxophone solo in the song’s last minute. In the equally synth-heavy “Reunion,” Gonzalez croons overtop a focal drum sound, with an intermission of female dialogue.

There is no shortage of diversity on the album. “Echoes of Mine” starts out with French dialogue, giving it a sensual feel, and this fades out to a booming melody of both synth sounds and live instruments.  “Raconte-moi Une Histoire,” one of the most unique songs on the album, features an upbeat background track accompanied by a young girl reciting a bizarre story about a frog, drawing feelings of nostalgia and joviality.

The opening track to the second disc, “My Tears Are Becoming a Sea,” is gloomy and tragic in nature, as Gonzalez sings of a love interest and his quest for her: “I’m on my way, I’m on,” and this is overdramatized by the dominant sounds of a pounding drum.  “Splendor” is also a track with a somber tone that evokes deep emotions with its mellowed down vocals and chorus of youthful voices. The listener’s attention is soon brought back with the catchy and much louder subsequent track, “Year One, One UFO,” which is an unusual but pleasant mix of different upbeat melodies and sounds.

Despite the nearly 70-minute long length of the album, the album surprisingly flows smoothly, mostly due to Gonzalez’s editing and effective use of hooks and smooth transitions.  The calmer and mellower songs are also well placed between catchier, lyric-heavy songs.

The album does get a little exhausting and repetitive by the end, which is almost expected of a double album. However, the concluding “Outro” takes this softened, expended symphonic sound and excites it with Gonzalez’s deep voice and an ascending track; it ultimately ends with a glorious instrumental ensemble, providing a dramatic but satisfying conclusion.

This album tells a cinematic story in conjunction with a rich and eclectic variety of musical elements.  M83 brings back the ‘80s and makes it sound refreshing and almost more modern than the music of our times. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming takes its audience on an exciting, emotional journey and while listening to this album, it’s best not to “hurry up” or else the buoyant “dream” may, much to one’s chagrin, unexpectedly end.

Original Author: Dina Khatib