As much as I’d want Morgan Freeman to narrate my life, I’d rather M83′s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute; 2011) be its soundtrack. It’s a double-album of climaxes and melancholic planetary rest stops. An ode to a bygone, premillennial era of double-CD record store events, a la the monolith that was Billy Corgan’s opus, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995; Virgin Records).
Hurry Up‘s experience, however, is commensurate with the band’s titular roots: Messier 83, the spiraling galaxy that the band’s name is based on. And what an intergalactic ride it is. While some of French frontman Anthony Gonzales’ love of 80s midnight movie shtick is absent here (which I’d argue was about time), what replaces it is some of his best (if not best-maturated) work since 2003′s Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. All while reawakening the metro-luminescent Bladerunner appeal of 2005′s Before the Dawn Heals Us.
The most striking sign of evolution you’ll hear between 2008′s M83 and 2011′s M83 is Gonzales’ voice. It’s almost unrecognizable now. It’s taken center stage, and it has power, scale, heft, and soaring range. Prior to Hurry Up, Gonzales commissioned the help of outside vocalists; now, any artist would be lucky to recruit him. He’s taken hold of my new favorite singing voice, one that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses.
There is new swagger to Gonzales’ pop songcraft that derails his outfit’s 80s-throwback predecessors. Here, the Frenchman digs deeper into that decade’s mythic histrionics. That is, the ebullience that gave those 80s synth ballads their initial appeal — however we may cringe at them now. M83′s previous album, Saturdays = Youth (2008), was less about the 80s version of space travel. It paid homage to their sunny, pastels-colored nostalgia for John Hughes’ films, which they largely accomplished via Gonzales’ defiantly hushed vocals, 80s production hijinks and retro software kits. Hurry Up’s instrument repertoire, on the other hand, has expanded considerably to court timeless analog tools. In the resplendent Reunion (track 3) and the gorgeous Wait (track 5), for instance, the 80s synths and software beats take a backseat to electric-cum-acoustic guitars, analog drums and Gonzales’ reincarnated vocals. Where the Boats Go (track 4) is the perfect prototype for any filmmaker’s funeral scene. It’s the segue way between track 3 and 5, giving us time to absorb the preceding high-octane trio, leading us into Wait‘s slow, pretty fog.
Perhaps one of the album’s missteps, however, is its salient reliance on sustained crescendos. This is nothing new, of course, to M83 listeners. In fact, it’s one of this reviewer’s oft-cited reasons to queue them up on his iPhone (transforming an otherwise-lame car ride to work into a light speed voyage through incalculable stretches of dark matter (how fun).
Just three words: Run Into Flowers.
Listen to it and weep, with your arms stretched up towards the sky. (For some reason I’m thinking of Willem Dafoe’s iconic Platoon death scene). Yet, Gonzales tends to drop us over the stratospheric plateau of choruses and bridges without coaching our aesthetic lungs for thin altitudes. Perhaps a little more verse-time would have done the trick. That, and toning down his penchant for cheese-whizzed song titles (i.e., My Tears Are Becoming a Sea).
Music begets emotion. Better yet, music is emotion; and to experience it as a 74-minute high can be exhausting, no matter how peptidic it is. Too much of a “good thing” can be bad, too, in some respects. Still, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is a beautiful, phantasmagoric mess, and I’m a sucker for beautiful messes that leave me uplifted and destroyed, all at the same time. Not one of this two-sided album’s 74 minutes is wasted, and it unexpectedly goes down easier than most of their single-sided LPs.
After you get over the mega-pop single appeal of Midnight City, of course, be sure to excavate this album’s gems. There are many.