M83 have always had a playful side. Sure, they may be best known for their cinematic electro, whilst their breakthrough album ‘Saturday=Youth’ is full of moody teen angst. But they also have songs about cleaning rockets (Up!) and very tiny, special frogs (Raconte-Moi Une Histoire); bizarre cover art and science-fiction inspired videos (Midnight City); and they experiment with genres and form, with their 2011 album ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ fusing rock, ambience and electro pop in both lengthy epics and short interludes.
In cinematic terms, the French band’s latest album ‘Junk’ is like a Pixar film: vibrant, colourful and cartoonish, but with plenty of adult appeal. Their concept art is all rainbow fonts, alien puppets and cute dogs, like Sesame Street in space. And TV shows from the 70s and 80s have provided frontman Anthony Gonzalez with plenty of inspiration. Musically, the album blends jazz, funk, electro, rock, and lounge music, up-tempo kaleidoscopes rubbing shoulders with lilting melancholy.
The result is an album that’s fun, campy and experimental, taking the junk from the past and making it sound relevant for the future. It’s something that worked for Daft Punk and it certainly works here, developing the M83 sound in a novel and creative direction.
Take opening track Do It, Try It. It’s got house piano, space-aged synths, and processed vocals blended together with disco sounds and an almost prog-rock sensibility. The cutely-named Bibi the Dog squelches and bubbles underneath a French monologue. Moon Crystal sounds like the intro to some incredibly cheesy sitcom. Time Wind, featuring Beck, wouldn’t sound out of place on Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories’. And Road Blaster is the sequel to Midnight City, with its infectious syncopation and the band’s now trademark saxophone.
Solitude is the album’s lengthiest track, travelling through gentle ambience into a soft rock Bowie-esque ballad that eventually evolves into orchestral strings over the course of six minutes. It’s followed by The Wizard, one of the album’s short interludes that lurches us into spacey magic – a juxtaposition of tracks that reflects the band’s sense of extremes.
At the mournful end of the spectrum, Sunday Night 1987 ends the album with a dreamy lullaby that’s genuinely touching. But it’s For The Kids that really tugs at the heartstrings. It begins like a Disney ballad, Norway’s Susanne Sundfør singing “Where are you now? Who do you go to for a shoulder to cry on?” that bleeds into lyrical saxophone. Is that the ghost of a mother reaching out? Or is the child’s monologue in the middle eight calling out from death (“I am everywhere, you remember?”)?
Adults and children; darkness and colour; cute duets between men and woman; funky synth rhythms and melancholic orchestral strings. ‘Junk’ is an album of contradictions, giving life to the past with heaps of fun.
* For The Kids
* The Wizard
* Road Blaster
Listen: ‘Junk’ is out now.