M83’s Junk, released April 8th, is fundamentally different from the group’s 2011 double album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Where Hurry Up is largely filled with high-power emotional concords, Junk is filled with an assortment of dreamy beats, soft vocals, and guitar/sax/violin solos. While it is not the type of album that immediately pulls me in, it still has its merits.
“Do It, Try It,” released earlier in the year, is a pleasant blend of Hurry Up and new material. As the first track, it allows M83 to transition from the crowd-pleasing to the experimental. Unlike typical material dropped nowadays, this album feels like it needs to be played front to back. Its impact is not in the success of singular songs, but rather in the overall effect of the arrangement. “Road Blaster” complements the mood of “Walkaway Blues.” The former wields an impressive energy while the latter possesses this pleasantly slow rhythmic progression with ever so slight saxophone in the background. The pairing makes me feel like I am on a cigar boat cutting across the Pacific while the sun casts an orange glow over the sky—as I type these words I listen to the end of “Walkway Blues,” which sounds like waves drifting in and receding from the shore.
M83, true to their roots in France, add a few pieces laden with French vocals, notably “Bibi the Dog.” Do I know what the vocalist, Mai Lan, is saying? No, but man is that beat funky. It includes the good bits of Chromeo’s sound, and improves upon them by accenting the chorus with Thriller-esque distortion and an appropriate level of trumpet tooting. Mai Lan’s other contributions to the album, namely “Laser Gun” among “Go!” and “Atlantique Sud” operate as support beams for Anthony Gonzalez’s musical explorations. “Laser Gun” has my head bobbing in typical M83 fashion; interesting enough the main lyrics include “keep dreaming”…
As I face the first of a few instrumentals, “Moon Crystal,” I am sad to say I am disappointed. One of my favorite aspects of Hurry Up was the emotional impact of the instrumentals. I constantly found myself getting chills up my spine as I took a listen. Junk’s instrumentals leave me with no real gain—they stand as bland interludes. I will admit that a later feature “The Wizard” is better than “Moon Crystal,” but that is not saying much.
I was very much looking forward to M83’s inclusion of vocalist Susanne Sundford, as I thoroughly enjoyed the pair’s collaboration on the soundtrack of Oblivion–starring Tom Cruise. She covers an extraordinary vocal range tremendously well, but on Junk she delivers a softer ballad of sorts. “For The Kids” let me down; a powerful rendition like “Oblivion” would have changed the entire mood of the album for the better.
If this album accomplishes nothing else, at least it establishes new artistic relationships for Gonzalez. Mai Lan is quite the vocalist, not quite Sundford, but still laudable. Further, indie artist Beck appears for “Time Wind” and uplifts the latter half of the album. I enjoyed Mai Lan’s features more, but I am excited for the future of M83 and the promising collaborations that includes. I am seeing the group when I go back to Pittsburgh for the summer, and you know very well that I am going to be in the pit excitedly trying to sing the vocals to “Midnight City.”