Saturdays = Youth
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2008, Volume 15, #5
Written by John Metzger
Wed May 14, 2008, 02:45 PM CDT
Considering that it initially was known mostly for crafting lush, instrumental soundscapes, M83 managed to amass a significant amount of attention for itself when it released Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, its sophomore set, in 2003. The outing likely would have remained the bandís biggest incursion into the mainstream market had it not been for the major changes that the group has been making to its approach ever since. The departure of Nicolas Fromageau left his creative partner Anthony Gonzalez open to doing whatever it was that he pleased, and on M83ís third endeavor Before the Dawn Heals Us, Gonzalez began to lay the groundwork for his outfitís metamorphosis by adding vocals to his material. Although he carries his ideas further on M83ís latest effort Saturdays = Youth, the result is a continuation rather than the culmination of his journey.
Slowly but surely, M83 has been inching forward in its ability to create a cohesive narrative for its endeavors, and Saturdays = Youth is easily its most focused effort to date. Instead of weaving a tale through music, as it did on its early albums, M83 increasingly has relied upon lyrics to tell its story, and by pitting Gonzalezís vocals against those of his female counterpart Morgan Kibby, a dialogue is developed that adds weight to the material. Although several tracks on Saturdays = Youth were constructed around a mere phrase or two, the words were selected carefully based upon their ability to move the outing forward. In fact, the only cut on Saturdays = Youth that doesnít feature a vocalist is Midnight Souls Still Remain, and its sadly haunting, funereal drone provides a fitting conclusion to the song cycle.
The biggest issue surrounding Saturdays = Youth, however, is that it still isnít clear where Gonzalez wants to go with his work. Throughout the endeavor, he employs more traditional song structures, and at times, particularly during the outingís opening half, it sounds as if he is intent on transforming M83 into a retro-pop outfit. Sculpting a love letter to the 1980s, he draws from the likes of Peter Gabriel, Psychedelic Furs, The Cure, and the Cocteau Twins. On occasion, he gets it absolutely perfect, too. Graveyard Girl, for example, may or may not become a hit in todayís fickle, segmented market, but thereís no doubt that if it had been issued 25 years ago, it would have been all over the airwaves.
Nevertheless, midway through Saturdays = Youth, everything begins to unravel. As the set progresses, its songs become a little hazier and less memorable because the melodies evaporate amidst the more atmospheric textures and arrangements that are employed. In a sense, the shift in style fits with the endeavorís thematic flow, but at the same time, it also feels as if M83 is hedging its bets somewhat by clinging too tightly to its past. Producer Ken Thomas ó with help from Ewan Pearson as well as Gonzalez ó does an admirable job of framing the material, but he never quite achieves the sort of a transcendent ambience that someone like Brian Eno might have brought to the project. The funny thing about M83ís adoption of a more traditional approach is that although it undoubtedly will help the band to reach a broader audience, it also brings it closer in line with countless other outfits playing the same game.
Of Further Interest...
Saturdays = Youth is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box