Monday, April 11, 2016

M83 - Junk Review

There's a fine line between replication and parody where, if you cross the former without a hint of the latter, you crumble apart into a million little pieces from perennial redundancy. That result is apt for Junk, M83's first solo album since 2011's wonderful Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, because, as stated by Anthony Gonzalez himself in a press release, "anything we create today is going to end up being space junk at one point anyway." The comment, when looked upon with a microscope, seeks to redefine the importance of humanities achievements by nullifying them altogether. So maybe he knew? Maybe, just maybe, he knew this album was, in fact, junk. In an attempt at pastiching a time long since past, the golden age of television in the 70's and 80's, filled with over-the-top, but entirely aloof cheesiness and glamor, Gonzalez effectively recreated the gushy kitsch perfectly; the end result is so accurate it's bad. Much like how one reflects on their childhood with nostalgic embarrassment, there's a reason that era of emotionally riddled but sonically inept disco balladry has faded into the stardust. Humanity doesn't need it again.

There could be no clearer sign to my overall disappointment with Junk than the album's opening track and lead single 'Do It, Try It.' Simply put, when it first released my apathy was dangerously alarming for a new M83 single. It was tacky, uncoordinated, and reeked of amateurism. Now that Junk's 15 songs have made it through my ear drums I can safely say it's a top five, arguably top three track. That's a concerning start. Comparably speaking, the sound and style M83 was going for, of which I must reiterate he succeeded in, makes for a boring experience with tired movements and passé content. Generally speaking 'Do It, Try It' is not that, making a decisive effort to thwart tedium by jolting listeners with large, stadium-worthy sounds. In another sense, follow-up 'Go!' accomplishes the same direction but in much better quality. It stands alone as inarguably the best track here, featuring a sweet and gooey chorus that sees the fun-loving side of 80's teen culture erupt into a fiery ball of fist-pumping. The prominent guitar work by Steve Vai and rebellious vocals by Mai Lan still fits with the narrative of Junk, accomplishing the same feats in a more invigorating fashion.

From that point on the album gets oddly perplexing. Essentially Gonzalez drops the sonic appeal he featured on most of Saturdays=Youth, the most comparable of his works to this, and goes full blown 80's sitcom themed soundtrack. Look to 'Moon Crystal,' one of Junk's four instrumental interludes, and you'll immediately see what I'm talking about. This is the exact kind of music Vaporwave is currently profiting off of, just with no hint of irony to speak of. And yet, it wasn't until Susanne Sundfør came in sullen on 'For The Kids' that the gravity of what M83 was trying to do set in. Like a turning point in 7th Heaven where the stricken family member looks off onto the lake, her tire swing coming to a stop, the downtrodden pianos and strings swaying ever so gloomily in the Fall wind, 'For The Kids' is so tacky I can't help but poke fun at it. And while nothing else gets that ludicrously blunt the feelings behind many are exactly the same, so much so I can't help but be impressed with how invested Gonzalez became in this mission.

Throughout the LP, there's two sides to this soundtrack coin that M83 flips between; the uppity bombast of a lead character jollily gallivanting with friends and the solemn introversion of them crying in their room; poor acting included. 'Bibi The Dog' and 'Laser Gun' define the former, 'Solitude' and 'Sunday Night 1987' define the latter. Concerning the two ones intent on dazzling, while they don't reach as high as 'Go!' they have moments where their appeal is achieved, especially 'Laser Gun' and it's bridge, "Got it all PAM! Got everything!" Unfortunately the slower ballads are tedious drivel, meant to show a sign of music that's hardly ever appealing. Those two listed above would do so well as background filler for those dreary TV moments, but lambasted into your ears as the only form of entertainment they're virtually empty. All of this thus far is ignoring the songs that don't do anything interesting whatsoever, like the Beck featured 'Time Wind' which comes and goes without so much as to a reaction one way or another. And while there's peaks of alluring moments, the same could largely apply to 'Atlantique Sud' and 'Road Blaster.' That is to say, even with all the nostalgic reflecting Gonzalez does the end result is still boring.

While on first sight Junk may seem like a boring, but interesting affair that clearly efforted a reincarnation, the final appeal is one that's just lackluster. Think back to your favorite M83 song, is it 'Run Into Flowers,' 'Midnight City,' 'Kim & Jessie'? Now look at Junk, excluding 'Go!,' and a befuddled mess that sees someone's clear talents used poorly appears. I will not discredit Gonzalez entirely for attempting this 80's soundtrack masked as an album, even within the painfully narrow SynthPop scene it makes a case for creativity, but out of all eras to revisit this one, especially when done too sincerely, will surely result in infinite boredom. It's not that the songs are inherently bad, this isn't Speeding Bullet 2 Heaven we're talking about, it's that the songs, for the most part, are not fun to listen to. A different approach would've done wonders, maybe a lick of originality here, an outrageous structure there, but as it stands Junk sees the hint of tongue-in-cheek lay dormant on the cutting room floor, resulting in a bland work that takes itself all too seriously.

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