M83 – Saturday = Youth

We’re on the brink of new year and I have already discovered an album that elusively evaded my year list of 2008. Though not the masterpiece that M83 is capable of making, this clearly deserves notice. So I’ll make up for not adding it to the list by writing a little review about the new album splendidly titled “Saturday=Youth”.

For the record, M83 is actually French musician Anthony Gonzales.  His debut (Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, 2003) left me impressed. This mainly electronic take at shoegazer was impressive. Walls of sound where created but instead of using electronics as a an aid, it became the main source. I expected M83 to release a masterpiece in the years to come but so far that hasn’t happened. M83 dugg back a decade too far and ended up in the 80’ies instead of the 90’ies…

Saturday=Youth opens up with a piano  and synths making a beautiful melody but when Gonzales vocals join on You Appearing it becomes a little awkward. Falsetto is clearly not his style which makes for a weak spot in an otherwise  touching and attention grabbing opening track.
Next up is Kim & Jessie , one of the singles. This is a dissapointing track on the album.  It’s one thing to give your music an 80’ies feel by using synths from that era, but this is just over the top. The vocals have improved but that’s the only good thing I can say about it.
Fortunately this track is followed up by Skin of the Night.  The synths haven’t left the 80’ies yet but I can clearly hear some Slowdive influences in this one. The female vocals are not the tracks most charming factor (Gonzales though is on queu). But the melody is quite attractive.
Graveyard Girl confirms a return to the 90’ies.  But its not a highlight song. In the vein of My Bloody Valentine and the likes. But not really that memorable.
And now it strikes me.
M83’s sound is nothing like on the eponymous debut. Where are the walls of guitar/synth noise? This is really bitter sweet and mellow. The debut had those aspects too but at least wrapped them in walls of processed guitar sound. So far the album is seriously lacking in that department. What’s more, Gonzales has clearly opted not to do that sort of thing on this album. I’ll let him proceed and decide to check out the rest  despite my disappointment.
And the second single Couleurs gets my hopes up. This really resembles the debut album. Noisy and melancholic and almost purely electronic again. (reminded me of Slowdive’s Missing You, one of the best songs made in the 90ies). This track holds the album together.
That being said , let’s not speak about the next track Up , by far the worst track M83 has ever made. Rubbish.
We own the Sky
washes away most of the bad taste left by the previous track. Classic M83 beats with vocals that really resemble Bloc Party. In fact if I close my eyes, it could be the same guy. Anyway it works and thats the most important thing at this point. Because highlights have been scarce.
Highway of Endless Dreams has potential. But it never really bursts open. This could have been an epic track but in the end is just not hard enough. It’s got the melody, the build-up  but fails to the deliver because the noise remains restrained by a useless vocal contribution in the last part of the song. This could have been the “Noise” of “Saturday=Youth”
Too Late is again a pretty song. But where is the loudness? Too mellow. Dark Moves of Love follows this pattern but at least attempts to become a bit more noisy in the second half, something I applauded. The vocal arrangement here is also a bit more fitting.
Midnight Souls Still Remain closes of the album on a high. Fortunately I’m a big ambient fan so 10 minute + repetitive tracks sit rather well with me. But I can imagine that an average M83 fan might not be able to sit through the closing track.

And I think in the end the same can be said for the entire album. It is a beauty yes, but with their debut M83 had raised certain expectations. I too had hoped they would bring thé electronic shoegazer revival album. They didn’t.  They chose melody and bitter sweetness (wrapped in an overtly 80’ies package)  over layers & noise. And I’m afraid many fans of the first hour won’t buy that either. On the other hand :  I can see them gain a few more listeners with this more accessible album. A surprising effort, a good effort. But I think M83 can do a lot more…


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