We need better genre names. We don’t need more genre names; god knows we already have way too many of them. But none of our currently-existing genre names are up to the task of describing what, exactly, M83 does. Think of whatever single-word descriptors you’ve seen applied to the work of the mad Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez. Shoegaze? Synthpop? These won’t cut it. We need something better. We need a word for music that, when heard on headphones, can turn mundane everyday-life moments into vivid, kaleidoscopic movie montages. We need a better way to delineate the type of music that suffocates you with its beautiful, dramatic excess. I’m not going to try to invent that name because all of my ideas are terrible. I’m just putting it out there into the universe. M83 is about to give us a motherfucker of an album, and that album deserves a better genre name than any of the ones we currently have in circulation.
Perhaps we should defer to M83 here. The last time M83 made a proper studio album, Anthony Gonzalez was freaking the fuck out. Five years earlier, he’d released the epic sonic-tidal-wave double-album monster Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, and it had made him more famous and successful than he could’ve thought possible. After Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, M83 was scoring Tom Cruise movies and shit. There’s no easy way to follow up a record as vast and sweeping as that one, so Gonzalez made a weird, goofy, sideways record, and he called it Junk. This was not the most confident thing that Gonzalez could’ve done.
Now, after an even longer break between proper albums, M83 has returned to the business of making music so epic that it sounds like running through clouds. Once again, Anthony Gonzalez is piling gauzy sounds on top of gauzy sounds, creating colossal and unwieldy structures out of synths and guitars and howling-ghost noises and bleeps and booms and whooshes. He’s creating sound-worlds so giddy and lush and ornate that you might find yourself wishing that you could live inside them. I don’t understand all the decisions at work on the new M83 album. I don’t get why Gonzalez gave it that dog-ass ugly cover art. I don’t get why he casually shared half of the record more than a month before the release date. But I do understand why Gonzalez chose to call the new album Fantasy. That, at the very least, makes perfect sense.
When he announced Fantasy, Anthony Gonzalez said that he had a specific goal in mind with this one: “I wanted this record to be very impactful live.” This is a noble goal. More than two decades ago, M83 started off as two French guys dicking around on computers, making music so huge and majestic that nobody would have any hope of playing it live. (This was the time before Daft Punk’s Pyramid tour, when people didn’t realize that two French guys dicking around on computers could be very impactful live.) But when M83 became Anthony Gonzalez’s solo project, he reimagined it as something resembling a rock band. M83’s best moments have always been its rock-band moments, and thanks to Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, Gonzalez and friends will be able to make their big noises in big venues for a long time. Fantasy is an album made for big venues. The songs on this album sound great on headphones or on decent speakers, but they’ll sound even better when you’re in a crowd of a few thousand people, jumping up and down with your hands in the air.
The lyrics of “Oceans Niagara,” the first single from Fantasy, consist of two words repeated a bunch of times: “Beyond adventure!” That is a very silly lyric, an ecstatically meaningless Buzz Lightyear-ass catchphrase. (For that matter, the title “Oceans Niagara” is ecstatically meaningless and very silly in its own way.) But when “Oceans Niagara” hits, its feeling goes past meaning. The track builds and builds and builds. Every massive chord, every crescendo, has been artfully constructed for maximum exhilaration. Anthony Gonzalez is an expert at structuring sound, and the entire point of “Oceans Niagara,” of every cymbal-crash and keyboard oscillation and vrooming guitar, is to communicate a dizzy excitement that exists beyond words and maybe even beyond adventure.
That’s the way that things work on Fantasy. When I asked M83’s publicist for the album’s credits, I expected a list of names to Google; that’s what I usually get in these situations. Anthony Gonzalez did work with some prominent people on Fantasy, including King Woman’s Kristina Esfandiari and Gonzalez’s longtime collaborator Justin Meldal-Johnson, a former Nine Inch Nails bassist and Paramore producer. But what I got back from the publicist instead was a list of “equipment used in the making of this album.” This was an intentional choice. The list is long. It’s got 37 different synths and keyboards, including a Steinway grand piano. It’s got 10 different drum machines and dozens of different guitars and effects pedals. Under drums, it just says “many.” A lot went into making this record, and you can tell.
M83 records sounded big even when Anthony Gonzalez didn’t necessarily have all those resources at his disposal. Now, after “Midnight City” and Oblivion and the Cirque Du Soleil show that he soundtracked, Gonzalez can use every gizmo that he’s ever wanted. Gonzalez cares deeply about what you can do with finely sculpted sonic waves, and you can hear that obsession at work on Fantasy. But Gonzalez also brought a clear sense of purpose and drive into this album, and you can hear that, too. A lot of the songs are seven or eight minutes long, but they’re never formless. Instead, those tracks are where Gonzalez takes his time, building up to more moments of tidal, overwhelming bliss.
Fantasy is a full-immersion album. Gonzalez’s tracks don’t often adhere to pop-song structure, and his lyrics often verge on gibberish. (“Hello, freak! Can you see the sky ladder by the limbo café, leading to the green ray?” I sure can!) To get the full effect, you have to go along for the ride, from the tender and acoustic quasi-folk of “Ready, Far, Gone” to the gauzy dream-funk of “Deceiver.” Even at its most vaporous, Fantasy feels urgent and physical. When Gonzalez sings, he stacks vocal tracks on top of each other and chirps so hard that you can practically see the forehead veins bulge. And while Fantasy works as a classic headphones records, its best moments, like the surging dance break on the title track, sound like the work of musicians in a room together. On some level, this sounds like communal music that’ll only reach its final form when a whole bunch of people hear it in a big room together.
Fantasy is an album-album with its own peaks and valleys; maybe that’s why Anthony Gonzalez chose an almost-instrumental with a two-word refrain as its lead single. There are no “Midnight City”-level anthems on Fantasy. But “Amnesia” comes close. “Amnesia” just knocks me over. It sounds like prime New Order trying to sound like prime Jane’s Addiction — expert technicians realizing that their beats and blips and hooks can take them all the way up the stairway to heaven. Over waves and waves of euphoric sound, Gonzalez wails, “I’m in love with the darkness! It’s just a sound!” But “Amnesia” doesn’t sound like it’s ever been anywhere near darkness. It sounds like sunlight punching you in the face. When you can achieve something like that, maybe you don’t need a decent genre name after all. Maybe you’ve ascended to some higher plane.
Fantasy is out 3/17 on Mute.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Yves Tumor’s Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)
• 100 Gecs’ 10,000 gecs
• EST Gee’s Mad
• U2’s Songs Of Surrender
• Kruelty’s Untopia
• Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s V
• T-Pain’s On Top Of The Covers
• Lil Keed’s Keed Talk To ’Em 2
• Nicholas Krgovich’s Ducks
• Gideon – More Power. More Pain.
• The Van Pelt’s Artisans & Merchants
• Now More Than Ever’s Creatrix
• The Band Of Heathens’ Simple Things
• Emiliana Torrini & The Colorist Orchestra’ Racing The Storm
• Black Honey’s A Fistful Of Peaches
• Kosaya Gora’s Kosogor
• Genevieve Artadi’s Forever Forever
• C.M. Talkington’s Texas Radio
• Úlfúð’s Of Existential Distortion
• The Lost Days’ In The Store
• deathcrash’s Less
• Daddy Long Legs’ Street Sermons
• Aly & AJ’s With Love From
• The compilation Blacklips Bar: Androgyns And Deviants — Industrial Romance For Bruised And Battered Angels, 1992–1995
• The country Rolling Stones tribute Stoned Cold Country
• Inspiral Carpets’ The Complete Singles
• The Black Crowes’ The Black Crowes: Shake Your Money Maker Live
• FIDLAR’s That’s Life EP
• Deb Never’s Thank You For Attending EP
• Tei Shi’s Bad Premonition EP
• Princess Nokia’s i love you but this is goodbye EP
• Hozier’s Eat Your Young EP