tue 26/01/2021

CD: M83 - Junk | reviews, news & interviews

CD: M83 - Junk

CD: M83 - Junk

From underground to sophistopop: the French band's evolution continues

'A peculiar thing, often very beautiful indeed'

There's an area in American music that is oddly under-reported given its scale. Somewhere between the garish mania of mainstream dance music, “EDM”, and the cool cachet of more underground sounds is a kind of “festival electronica”: very musical, often subtle and sophisticated, acts detached from nightclubs and often far more visible on the live circuit, where lasers and LED displays create epic backdrops for their sound.

There's an area in American music that is oddly under-reported given its scale. Somewhere between the garish mania of mainstream dance music, “EDM”, and the cool cachet of more underground sounds is a kind of “festival electronica”: very musical, often subtle and sophisticated, acts detached from nightclubs and often far more visible on the live circuit, where lasers and LED displays create epic backdrops for their sound. Acts like Tycho, Pretty Lights, Ratatat and British export Bonobo have, mostly through hard touring, built highly lucrative careers, and increasingly form a layer within the industry akin to the college radio indie of the 1980s and 1990s.

Into this space fits the French band, now based in LA, M83. Originally a duo making haunted textural sounds in the vein of underground electronica demigods Boards of Canada, they've gone through various permutations – the constant factor being founder Anthony Gonzalez – each time adding sonic clarity and pop nous, until on 2011's Coldplay-go-electropop epic Hurry Up, We're Dreaming they achieved major US and international success. Inevitably they've lost fans to snobbery and disillusion at each step of the way, but they've also managed to secure a position many would envy.

The follow-up Junk might have taken four-and-a-half years to get out, but it shows no sign of living in its predecessor's shadow. In fact, if anything, Gonzalez has stepped aside from its stadium rock pretensions very deftly, saving everything that was good about it – the 1980s FM pop gloss (think The Cars, 10CC, Thomas Dolby, Avalon-era Roxy), the sense of scope that is both cinematic and festival-friendly – and replacing the vainglorious swagger that sometimes marred it with far more subtlety and elegant weirdness. It's a much more French-sounding record, with knowing hints of cabaret and chanson, but remains deep in its understanding of the American pop-cultural dream, conjuring a strange mid-point between David Lynch and John Hughes. It's a peculiar thing, often very beautiful indeed, and whether or not it can ingratiate itself into the mainstream, it represents another fascinating step in a fascinating career.

Listen to "Solitude":

Junk replaces the vainglorious swagger that sometimes marred its predecessor with far more subtlety and elegant weirdness

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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