I always love it when an album unexpectedly woos me this time of year. I mean, September and October are always the busiest time of the year for releases, and most of them I am completely aware of and even anticipating. For M83’s new album “DSVII” (Digital Shades, Volume II), I was completely taken by surprise. The album released on September 20th, and it is a masterpiece of color and vision.
M83 hails from France. Though there have been others involved, the primary musician behind this project is multi-instrumentalist Anthony Gonzalez. He is the brains and the heart here. I first had contact with the project through the 2013 film Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise. Gonzalez wrote a stunning, intense, and emotional soundtrack to that film which is easily one of my favorites. He even teamed up with Suzanne Sundfor for the film’s single, and that was also where I discovered her talent.
The music here is electronic, ambient, and alternative. You hear some pop twists here and there, and I personally believe M83’s music is deeply progressive. The project does dabble in various genres on various albums. For “DSVII”, M83 is primarily concerned with thriving, throbbing electronic soundscapes created with burgeoning synth, hailing back to the fantasy, synthetic concepts, and video game music of the 80s. The sounds are lush, colorful, organic, and pleasantly imminent. I would almost call this a modern Vangelis album, just fresher and more to the point. You will also hear plenty of fantastic drumming, which I always expect from M83.
One of the most captivating parts about this album is the fact that Gonzalez recorded the whole album with analog instruments only. While that is hardly a feat compared to the 70s, in the modern music community, it is a novelty. And the best part about it is that you can tell the difference. The music sounds familiar and organic with a depth of texture I did not expect. The synth alone feels like it is burning inside your heart when you hear it. It feels close and quite rich. I will definitely need this album on vinyl.
I honestly don’t have enough room to discuss how amazing each track really is. With 15 tracks, it is a quite expansive album. Some of the tracks are more like interludes, like “Goodbye, Captain Lee”, “A Word of Wisdom”, and “Jeux d’enfants”. Others might be a bit longer and more important than that, almost as if they are setting a mood or creating an environment for the next segment of the story. “Colonies”, “A Taste of the Dusk”, and “Mirage” seem to fall into that category. Many of the songs, though, are fully fleshed out and majestic to hear. All of the songs feature plenty of accents, quirks, and artistic flourishes that really bring them alive and make them feel vividly awake.
Let me narrow it down some more. My favorites are “Hell Riders”, “A Bit of Sweetness”, “Lune de Fiel”, “Lunar Son”, and “Temple of Sorrow”. There are many other noteworthy tracks that I almost feel sad to leave out, but these are definitely my highlights for the album. With such a sense of expression here, it almost feels like a crime to dissect the album.
“Hell Riders” begins the album with ambient fog, transitions into a beautiful acoustic guitar lick that instantly sells the song, and then surges forward into a groovy and choir-laden melody that feels larger than life. “A Bit of Sweetness” follows and feels glorious and harmonious. “Lune de Fiel” is one of the singles, and, man, it hits hard. The synth melody is direct and purposeful, without a hint of filler or hesitation. It sears itself into your memory immediately. “Lunar Son” may actually fall into the interlude category, but I love it so much. It is low key and quite ambient, but it rises near the end with delicacy and quiet power.
“Temple of Sorrow” deserves its own paragraph. I have not been able to stop listening to this song. Its rich and hanging atmosphere is quite a slow burn at first. About halfway through the song, a timid melody is birthed, and it slowly and surely builds its confidence and strength until the ending absolutely blows my mind. The choirs, the searing synth, the fantastic drums and fills, and the layering of melodies just continue to grow until all of it climaxes at the end. What a song!!
M83 might not be a common name in the progressive community, but this album is progressive to its core. The songs are lush and crisp, with every bit of zest and flavor that you could ever demand. The album only gets better with each listen, too, revealing the expression, nostalgia, and depth that are the building blocks. “DSVII” is certainly going to be one of the best albums of 2019.