When the mighty M83 came charging back into the music scene last month with details of a follow-up to 2011’s masterful international double-disc breakout ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’, the world drew a collective breath of frenzied anticipation. With its goofy McDonald’s Fry Kids-inspired artwork and Punky Brewster-esque graphics, the narrative thread of ‘Junk’ has been pinpointed by M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzalez as a salute to a time where television and entertainment was brimming with originality and spark. “I feel like TV shows are starting to look and sound the same,” Gonzalez says. “This album is a tribute to those old-fashioned shows.”
And he certainly wasn’t mincing his words. Lead single “Do It, Try It” is a gloriously silly synthesis of jangling, ultra-retro pianos, loopy vocal hooks, and exuberant singalong melodies. It was the last thing anyone expected to hear, and soon enough, Facebook posts, YouTube videos and official tweets were flooded with cries of confusion, disappointment, and – thankfully – a little dose of pleasant surprise here and there to fend off the keyboard warriors. What happened to the hypnotic, unabashed romance of “Wait”? What happened to the cutting edge pop-EDM crossover sensibility behind platinum single “Midnight City”?
If disgruntled fans were to sit back and scope the bigger picture, they’d see that ‘Junk’ is just another case study of an era Gonzalez is masterfully mining for all it’s worth.
M83 found the formula for success when they drew from the old well of nostalgia. ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ was so monumentally influential because it packaged the pure appeal of ’80s culture – think iconic John Hughes films, Tears For Fears and Miami Vice – with all the zest and relatable appeal of modern EDM music. If disgruntled fans were to sit back and scope the bigger picture, they’d see that ‘Junk’ is just another case study of an era Gonzalez is masterfully mining for all it’s worth. The French producer has never been one to veil his influences, and M83 haven’t ever been subtle about what inspires their forever-shifting sound.
‘Junk’ is M83’s brash, largely unbridled appropriation of uber-cheesy Reagan-era sitcoms, laughably jubilant children’s programs, and delightfully daggy ’70s disco hits. This time, it’s out with the self-serious, ethereal sense of stadium-primed wonder, and in with a euphoric yet peculiar collage of old-school elements. Gonzalez definitely doesn’t hold back on the cheese, packing whimsical synths and peppy beats into glitzy interludes like “Moon Crystal” and chic disco throwbacks such as “Bibi The Dog”. On “Go!”, the legendary Steve Vai provides completely indulgent, typically overblown hair-metal guitars, battling with possessed saxophone wails, a space-shuttle countdown and an extraordinarily motivational feel-good chorus. With so many elements in the mix, “Go!” could have easily collapsed on itself – but on an album as self-aware, directional and chock-full of honest appropriation like ‘Junk’, it’s a standout moment.
With its untamed array of bopping pianos, bouncing verses, whizzing synths and oodles of slap bass, “Laser Gun” gains powerful traction with the arrival of an American high-school-cheerleader-style chant. “Got It All / HEY! / Got everything, got everything!” is the one thing that will bounce around in your head long after your first listen, and it’s clear that Gonzalez and his new go-to female vocalist Mai Lan know exactly how to push all those throwback buttons. Directly after, “Road Blaster” charges in on a classic beat and a sexy saxophone hook, grooving over yipping Elk synth effects and some seriously impressive drum fills. It’s tracks like these that prove M83 haven’t lost their grip on irresistible, astoundingly magnetic earworms, regardless of context or direction.
Cuts like “Walkway Blues” (with Jordan Lawlor) and Beck collaboration “Time Wind” dial back on that assaultive, grandiose all-in approach, floating along on the strength of their gentler classic synthetic beats and delightfully spacey melodies. In fact, if you were to strip back the bells and whistles behind nearly every track on ‘Junk’, you would be left with a strikingly good song. “She’s a photograph of an empty road / Pictures of a life I can’t call my own / I need a love who won’t do me wrong / Waiting for the sound of a false alarm,” Beck croons, a disheveled desperation seeping from his simple vocal delivery. Even amidst such an outlandish, multi-faceted mish-mash of musical ideas, ‘Junk’ is still a deeply impressive collection of music at its core.
This is Gonzalez’ lustrous, jubilant love letter to a bygone era, long before the digital age swept over the music scene and blurred the line between originality and emulation.
“For The Kids” is a syrupy ’70s power ballad that sounds something like The Carpenters classic your mum and dad danced to at their wedding. It’s a direct recreation of the tropes of emotional pop in that era: twinkling synth lines, hyper-romantic, clichéd lyrics, and smokey slow-motion strings that eventually take a turn into unexpected realms with a sample of Zelly Meldal-Johnsen – the daughter of ‘Junk’ co-producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen – reciting nostalgic, but ultimately nonsensical poetry. “I am the morning dust tickling your neck. I am the wind, mommy,” she recounts in wonder. Gonzalez has always had quite the penchant for spoken-word interludes, but on “For The Kids”, it plays into his grand master plan to capture the magic of childhood innocence; to take us back to an idealistic musical landscape that Gonzalez clearly pines for. Every slight stylistic choice or minuscule audial reference contributes to ‘Junk”s baffling but brilliant aesthetic.
‘Junk’ is riddled with an inescapable, left-of-field sense of revelry and ironic joy that sets it apart from anything M83 has ever released. This is Gonzalez’ lustrous, jubilant love letter to a bygone era, long before the digital age swept over the music scene and blurred the line between originality and emulation. As listeners, we’re simply looking in on a meticulously-orchestrated tribute, and the view is weirdly compelling, unashamedly kitschy and – most importantly – supremely enjoyable.
‘Junk’ is available to purchase right here.