m831[xrr rating=3.5/5]
[xrr rating=2.5/5]
[xrr rating=2.75/5]Reissues and retrospectives can be jarring. Walking back through time and seeing what we loved or hated as compared to our current feelings is strange. M83, at the time of its inception, seemed to be a cutting-edge curiosity with Sega Genesis sounds mixed alongside ‘80s film scores and modern, polished synths. Their first few albums rippled through the indie world, influencing modern synth pop gurus like Twin Shadow, Chvrches and Neon Indian. But this retrospective view also reveals some wear and tear on the original product. Music in M83’s sphere of work has evolved so quickly over the last decade that much of their material now sounds dated.

It could be argued that M83 has put together one of the strongest strings of singles in the 21st century. “Midnight City,” “Run into Flowers,” “Kim & Jesse,” the list goes on. But this strength leads to an album-based weakness. These singles stand like pillars of excellence dwarfing the rest of the track list. Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts and Before the Dawn Heals Us suffer from this the most. The gorgeous and all-enveloping “Run into Flowers” dominates the wintery landscape of Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. In its wake, the other tracks feel half formed and sleepy. They’re 16-bit musings that never truly get off the ground. Before the Dawn Heals Us is more steady, but it’s weighed down by overblown, overdramatic, monologues and clips of dialogue, scripts to the imaginary film in Anthony Gonzalez’s head. The idea of making a score for a never-made film can work. Just see Symmetry’s excellent Themes for an Imaginary Film (which was supposed to score Drive, but was ditched at the last moment) or Boards of Canada’s “Reach for the Dead.” But these are evocative pieces of work, placing a projector in the mind’s eye. Before the Dawn Heals Us can do this at times with its Pink Floyd influence, epic 11-minute closing track, brilliant “Don’t Save Us from the Flames” and the cinematically sleek “A Guitar and a Heart,” but, again, these tracks are the monoliths shadowing the other songs.

Their self-titled debut album, not as well received on initial release, might have best stood the test of time because it feels so odd. The influence of French compatriots Air is the most obvious on this album, with many songs noodling in more ambient directions. While Before the Dawn Heals Us attempts to force the listener in with chunks of exposition, M83 was more welcoming and inviting, allowing the audience to slowly drift into a warm and strange world. It’s a delightfully perplexing listen, from the herky-jerky twinkle of synths in “Night” to the pseudo rave beat of “Sitting,” M83 seems like a collection of bedroom demos in the best way, a delirious mix of ideas that never stand still. It’s all wonderfully danceable, adorable and even a bit dorky at times. The Red Bull Music Academy recently put out a documentary TV series called “Diggin’ in the Carts” detailing the influence of video game music on musicians all over the world, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Gonzalez there, excitedly discussing the music of Tekken or Street Fighter. But that first album seems isolated from the rest of M83’s work, the other records grasping for grandness and only clutching it momentarily. The delicate smallness of M83 is where the wonder and romance truly shine; those fantastic traits were only drowned out in the other, more massive productions.

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