M83 – Saturdays = Youth (Mute Records)

On M83’s fifth full-length (counting 2007’s ambient one-off Digital Shades Vol. 1), leader Anthony Gonzalez switches gears from post-rock mindfuckery to a post-millennial update of synth-driven 80s new wave pop. There’s always been hints of Cocteau Twins and Kate Bush’s influence on M83’s albums, but now they’re displayed proudly. They even dip into some ’80s cheese that recalls dreck like The Thompson Twins. Such a drastic overhaul is a risky move – after all, if you don’t pick up new fans and you alienate the old ones you’re left with nothing – but M83 navigate these waters well enough, making the most of seemingly dated sounds while maintaining their knack for affecting songs and sweeping melodies. More psychedelically inclined fans will miss the brain-scrambling sounds of previous peaks like “0078th” and “Teen Angst”, but there’s still layers of cosmic shoegaze noise sprinkled subtly throughout Saturdays=Youth, especially the radio-ready singles “Kim and Jessie” and “Graveyard Girl”. The only misstep is “Couleurs”, a repetitive disco song that sits in idle for nine-minutes. Look past that and you’ve got yet another solid and surprising album from an outfit that refuses to settle into predictability. 

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute Records)

The critics have been almost unanimous in their praise for Hurry Up, I’m Dreaming. It’s even been placing near the top of almost every Best Of 2011 list I’ve seen. Yet I can’t get into it at all. Truth be told, M83’s albums have been declining since 2003’s excellent Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts, (perhaps coinciding with co-leader Nicolas Fromageau’s departure) but Hurry Up, I’m Dreaming marks their first album without a single song that I can latch onto – and it has twenty-two to choose from! They once boldly blended shoegaze textures, post-rock compositional elements and a dash of electronica into something thrilling that sounded like malfunctioning robots trying to play My Bloody Valentine songs, but they’ve scrapped that entirely and unironically embraced bad 1980s sounds. There’s cheesy electronic drum kits, shrill keyboards, slap-bass and even (gasp!) saxophone solos. As if those best-forgotten 1980s elements (along with Anthony Gonzalez’s pained vocals) weren’t bad enough, the album aims for some kind of B.S. Wes Anderson children’s adventure type of vibe that’s meant to be magical, and dreamlike – kind of like Where The Wild Things Are – but comes off cloying and forced. They bottom out completely on “Raconte-Moi Une Historie” which features a child narrating a story about a “magical frog”. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is a disappointment in every way possible. Oh, and the artwork is ugly too…