By all rights, M83’s music shouldn’t have gotten as popular as it did. Breakthrough album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, is, in retrospect, a bloated mess that had little focus and lots of filler. One should never underestimate the power of crack songwriting and a killer saxophone solo. Since “Midnight City” became an alt-rock hit, though, Anthony Gonzalez has remained silent, offering precious little until Junk was announced earlier this year. But what lies beyond that album sleeve and its regrettable artwork straight from Jim Henson’s garbage can? As it turns out, Gonzalez has spent the years between albums learning very little: Junk is plagued with the same problems—especially the lack of focus—that hurt its predecessor. What’s worse, there are fewer moments of great songwriting to make this journey worthwhile.

In the past, Gonzalez has given M83 records a sense of thematic unity, from the day-glo ambience of Before the Dawn Heals Us to the synth-driven teen angst of Saturdays = Youth. There is no such throughline on Junk; here, more than ever, Gonzalez seems to be chucking ideas at the wall in the hopes that something will stick. On Junk, we’re given the M83 rendition of electro-pop, synth-pop, funk, disco and ‘70s soft rock. To his credit, Gonzalez commits to these genre exercises fully: “Moon Crystal” sounds like a shag-carpeted artifact that just needs a Jeff “Skunk” Baxter guitar solo to be complete, and “For the Kids” could be the Casio-driven schmaltzy ballad to end all Casio-driven schmaltzy ballads. Gonzalez has always been the nostalgic type, but Junk finds him going overboard with no regard for context or cohesiveness.

This approach wouldn’t be so bad if there was something substantial to hold on to, but Junk comes up short in this regard. Those looking for a “Midnight City” are best served looking elsewhere, because Gonzalez doesn’t have time for that shit anymore. Instead, we get “Do It, Try It,” an Auto-Tuned mix of soft-pop and Eurodisco bombast that’s endearingly cheesy but far from his best work. “Solitude” fares better, its mix of synthesizers and strings coming across as more triumphant. Other than that, what listeners get on Junk is more of a collection of moments than fully-formed songs. Certain bits, like the chillwave-callback of “The Wizard” or the Herb Alpert-esque horn that introduces “Atlantique Sud,” have their appeal. Ultimately, though, Junk keeps the listener at arm’s length, its omnivorous approach more alienating than anything else.

No one would say that Gonzalez is an overtly serious artist; even his best and most enduring work under the M83 moniker has come from pilfering from the kitsch of the past and giving it new context. However, he used to do this in order to hone in on what made this sort of cornball music so enjoyable and enduring in the first place, stripping away decades of irony and cynicism to show a new generation of listeners that heart-on-sleeve sincerity wasn’t such a bad thing. Junk offers none of this. Gonzalez isn’t offering a new way to consider old, less-cool styles and genres. Instead, one gets the feeling that Junk is an album made for its own sake. After a decade and a half of making music that overwhelmed and embraced the listener, Gonzalez has done the exact opposite: he’s made an album that pushes you away and gives you the finger for daring to find something deeper amidst the schmaltz.

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