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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

M83: "Saturdays=Youth"

M83's Anthony Gonzalez has always embraced the epic nature of his songs. When browsing through his catalog of amazing songs, you start to realize that his best are always the ones that build into grand displays of what electronic music can be with the right person behind the synth keys. On, Saturdays=Youth, Gonzalez is expanding this idea by introducing an increased importance placed on songwriting and pop sensibilities. The album is, by all accounts, a new wave album in the purest sense of the genre. Recalling the best work of groups like New Order, Flock of Seagulls, or Depeche Mode, Gonzalez has created what could possibly be his most impressive album to date.

Saturdays=Youth plays out like the long-lost soundtrack to a John Hughes movie (actually cited by Anthony as an inspiration for the album), or a bonus CD for Donnie Darko. The scene pictured on the album cover should back me up on this. Gonzalez does more than just capture the mood of the cinematic era, however. The majority of the lyrics on the album are just as lovingly cheesy and melodramatic as can be, filled with such poignantly bad lines like "7am/dusty road/I'm going to drive until it burns my bones" or "The cemetary is my home/I want to be a part of it/invisible even to the night/and I'll read poetry to the stars." But these awesomely bad lines hardly distract from the mood of the album; if anything, they enhance it! It's like watching Sixteen Candles all over again!

That's not to say that you had to be around in the 80s to enjoy this though. I'm too young to remember anything from that era, and everything I know about it is second hand (Anthony, himself, is only 26). Still, I've found Saturdays=Youth to be an enchanting album. In the past, M83 has been about these really deep synth-heavy songs that build and build and assault your eardrums with pure electronic bliss. This album is a much softer, spread-out experience. There's never a sound that is too harsh or commanding, despite the fact that every song is built upon several layers of different synthetic instruments. Album opener, "You, Appearing," for example, never ventures beyond a simple piano line and atmospheric synth harmonies.

"Kim & Jessie," meanwhile, starts out of the gate with heavy drums and a blast-from-the-past synth lead that should totally be the intro song to some 80s throwback film, like Tears for Fears' "Head Over Heals" on the aforementioned Donnie Darko. "Skin of the Night" is a brilliantly sexy tune with shrill female vocals. She sings, "She digs her nails into her naked chest/miles of veins fan out like a road map/she pulls back the skin to show her ribs/that twinkle like shooting stars." It's pretty decent "mood" music for anyone who happens to still be living in 1985. "Graveyard Girl" replaces a lot of the keyboards for guitars, and the overall feel is unlike anything else the album has to offer. Gonzalez does manage to throw in some vocal synths, however; you know, the choral sounds on a keyboard that never get used? To be able to make them sound cool, to me, is a great sign of talent.

Possibly the greatest thing about Saturdays=Youth is that everything feels familiar despite the fact that this is all original material. There are not very many artists out there today who share Anthony's love for 80s new wave music and bring that love out in their music; so being able to hear a fairly stellar recreation of it is entirely welcomed. It should go without saying that many M83 fans may feel disenfranchised with the new approach that Gonzalez is taking to creating music. There are only a few moments on the album that sound like they could've been on another one of his works. "Couleurs," is clearly one of them, as is "Dark Moves of Love." Beyond that, however, this is completely new territory; both for Gonzalez and his fans. Personally, though I enjoyed his past albums almost without exception, Saturdays=Youth seems like the culmination of his work; an album that will not die out after a handful of listens, but one that will continue to receive plays for years. New wave is not my favorite of genres, to be honest, but this is an album that I simply cannot get enough of! I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to relive the 80s, or at least be reminded of their better musical moments.

Key Tracks:
1. "Kim & Jessie"
2. "Skin of the Night"
3. "Graveyard Girl"
4. "Up!"
5. "We Own the Sky"

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