The first time I heard M83, I was driving home from work on a summer’s day. Just as I was pulling into my driveway and about to park in the garage, “Midnight City” came on the radio. For the next 4 minutes and 3 seconds I sat in the car, frying in the Dallas heat, completely transported by the French electronic masterpiece blaring through the speakers of my dad’s car. From that moment on, I was hooked.
To be fair, the sound of M83 isn’t for everyone. Their first album, “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming,” was the beautiful brainchild of bandleader Anthony Gonzalez: it was weird, it was trippy and it was great. I’ll admit I didn’t stumble across M83’s debut album until early 2013, but I gobbled up everything I could find that Gonzalez had so much as touched in the past three years (I was all about Tom Cruise’s sci-fi thriller, “Oblivion,” strictly because of M83’s work on the soundtrack).
So, when I heard “Junk” was coming out this year, I immediately went and preordered my copy. I’ve been listening to it pretty much non-stop for the past week and have come to the (difficult) conclusion that while it is not my all-time favorite, it’s growing on me like some alien disease. I like this album, but I almost don’t want to.
The name “Junk” fits this album well; it breaks away from the continuous flow we’ve found in other works by M83 and, instead, takes a bunch of statement tracks and throws them together into one work. It’s a fun and danceable collection of sound, but it’s not quite what you may be expecting, and that makes it kind of funky.
If I had to pick one word to describe “Junk,” I would choose “groovy.” Each song has something rather special about it, and at one point or another, you’ll love each track.
This album stays very true to Gonzalez’s vision of producing music that still vibes with the ’80s dream-pop days gone by but with a modern-day pop-electronic flavor I have yet to find in any other band to date. From the energetic “Go! (feat. Mai Lan)” to the fantastical “Solitude,” this entire album is full of dramatic, groovy tunes. There isn’t a song on this album to which you couldn’t make up some kind of dance.
“Junk” stays true to the developing M83 sound, but with this album, there is almost something unsettling about it. The sound we all fell in love with in “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” resonates in this album better than it has in M83’s other work since, but it doesn’t quite stick. Instead of feeling like you’re sinking deeper into a dream, “Junk” has you feeling more like you’re floating through space with ugly little yarn creatures and the clay hamburger from the cover art. It’s still kind of a fun feeling, but it’s really weird.
Don’t get me wrong, this album certainly has its gems. “Do it, Try it,” “Go!” and “Road Blaster” are fun bops you should definitely put on your “SUMMAH 2K16 JAMZ” playlist. “Laser Gun” and “Walkaway Blues” have been stuck in my head since last Sunday. I would go so far as to say that there is a time and a place for every song on this album individually, but the album as a whole is missing something that just leaves you empty after a full listen.
Maybe it’s the gently spoken lyrics, maybe it’s the whispering children, maybe it’s the killer instrumentals that just don’t have enough vocals to accompany them, (why was the incredible vocal capacity of Susanne Sundfør not used more?) but something isn’t quite right about “Junk.” The songs all work together, but they don’t really connect.
But with a mind like Gonzalez’s behind the making of this album, you almost have to appreciate it. M83 makes music that makes you feel, sometimes things you don’t quite understand, sometimes things you don’t quite care about. Gonzalez makes no apologies when it comes to this album; he wanted ordered chaos and he got it. Most of the tracks are smothered in ’80s dream-pop and fun upbeat rhythms that really don’t make you feel bad.
Overall, it’s worth a listen, especially if you’re a big M83 fan. There’s a lot to be appreciated by “Junk” and there’s a lot of good dancing in the car or in front of the bathroom mirror to be had with this album.