Sunday, December 07, 2008


I haven't had a chance to write about this but recently (November 14), I went to see M83 at Webster Hall here in New York. I didn't know what to expect although I've liked them for a while. I'd bought an earlier album (Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts) which was largely electronic with swashes of My Bloody Valentine-inflected shoegazer influences. I liked it but hadn't listened to it in a while. It had long instrumentals that repeated melodies ad nauseum.

Well, the new album, Saturdays = Youth, is very different. First, here there are actual short songs. Second, as I've noted before, what hits you is that this is music clearly grounded in 1980s-era British pop, particularly, the Smiths, the Cure, Cocteau Twins, and other melancholy acts. Yet, it doesn't the sound the least bit dated. It's actually quite a beautiful album with subtle melodies, bringing together both male and female vocals in a sheen that sounds very contemporary. The two major singles ("Kim & Jessie" and "Graveyard Girl") are wonderful slices of '80s pop and wouldn't be out of place in a teen movie about running away from home or something like that.

The concert was great. Given the amount of electronics on the album I didn't know how they would reproduce the experience on stage. Although they had prepared loops and such, they also had a four-piece live band (two guitars, keyboards, drum, no bass), and completely fleshed out sound on stage. M83 is basically a single French guy, Anthony Gonzales (with sidehands for the live experience). The show covered the new album and a few tracks from previous albums, reproduced with great care. The encore was fantastic as the music shifted into total electronic/dance mode and I have no idea if the last songs lasted minutes or hours. I was suddenly transported back to a club in 1989. I was wearing black, she was wearing black. We were subbakulcha.

This isn't cynical music. It's very earnest which makes it easy to make fun of. But the beauty of some of the melodies and the production are designed to make you forget your higher instincts and for an hour or so, you can let yourself go into nostalgia, youthful nostalgia. It's the kind of music that makes you yearn for something (nostalgic music?) that might actually be happening while you are in the act of yearning. In that way, M83's album and show are, as Frederic Jameson might have said, nostalgia for the present. And sometimes that's not so bad.

The video of M83's "Graveyard Girl":

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