M83 ‘Junk’ Review Anthony Gonzales return with an album that skirts the line between irony and artistic ambition. Or something like that.
M83 have charted their own unique musical course: be it digital shoegaze (Before The Dawn Heals Us), sublime New Wave (Saturdays=Youth) or their genre straddling double album smash Hurry Up We’re Dreaming.
And now the Anthony Gonzales-led project brings us…Junk (due April 8 on MUTE). And that throwaway title foreshadows the most polarizing and bewildering release in M83’s catalogue.
Gonzales dished the details on Junk’s inspirations in a recent EW interview, where he gushed about 80’s sitcoms: “Shows like Punky Brewster and Who’s the Boss…I feel like TV shows are starting to sound and look the same. There’s no more passion anymore. So this album is a tribute to those old-fashioned shows.”
Well that’s a head scratcher, given we live in a “second golden age of television,” with shows whose production quality and writing often excel cinema. The fact that a show as cloying as Punky Brewster is an artistic statement in his eyes proves he lives in his own universe, bound to all his innocent whims and musings. The standard rules do not apply. Unless he’s joking…or trolling?
And that’s what makes Junk so weird and hard to quantify, although it starts off on more friendly turf: Do It, Try It, which mixes 80’s house piano with millennial glitz, is a dance floor banger that will bring a dumb grin to your face.
And the blissful dance-poppy Go splits the difference between the band’s 2011 hit Midnight City (more 80’s saxophone!) and the twee whimsy of French counterparts Air. It even throws in a shredding guitar solo from 80’s guitar god Steve Vai.
Indeed Junk is the album built off the back of Midnight City. Road Blaster is another example of a sax-soaked charmer that would do Spandau Ballet proud. And playful tracks like the Falco-esque Bibi The Dog or the English Beat/ABC hybrid Walkway Blues don’t lack for hooks, becoming more addictive with each listen.
But back to that comment about 80’s sitcoms: it helps to clarify why the album features every cheesy sonic signature of the period (glassy synths, more saxophones!). It’s an impressive sonic pastiche, but it often deflates M83’s atmospheric charms.
Those moments of textured dream pop soundscapes have been leveled for Billy Ocean-worthy production, becoming harder to digest as the album progresses.
Take Moon Crystal, a shamelessly cheesy mashup of The Love Boat and Three’s Company theme songs. It’s saccharine aftertaste is hard to shake, and leaves one wondering if this was a playful joke–or if it really got Gonzales’ rocks off while recording.
It doesn’t stop there: For The Kids (featuring vocalist Susanne Sundfør) borrows melodically and lyrically from Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love Of All (children are our future=for the kids). I picture it being played at some school dance on some 80’s sitcom–until the weird whispering kid monologue comes in midway.
But there are still soulful moments that defy their Casio-synth patches: Solitude is a blissful orchestral number, and Atlantique Sud is a gorgeous duet. Both of which conjure the grandiose emotion integral to M83’s best work. Likewise, instrumentals Tension and Ludivine have wistful, cinematic overtones.
The album ends with Sunday Night 1987: a lovely minimalist ballad about wishing to be a kid again, but its sense of pathos gets bulldozed by one wince-inducing harmonica solo. That dichotomy summarizes the album now that I think about it.
I’ll say this for Junk: you wont hear anything else like it this year, or any other. Unlike other retro-80’s works, it uses every part of the buffalo, using each Reagan-era element, be it hip or glaringly uncool.
Will it be seen as an underrated classic years from now, or is this his statement on how disposable music is in the digital age? Is he goofing on his fans? Or maybe he just genuinely loves the theme song to Punky Brewster. Perhaps we’ll never know.