"Dawn" of a new and beautiful day

Feb. 16, 2005, midnight | By Nick Falgout | 15 years, 11 months ago

M83's sophomore release sets the benchmark for the New Year

The recent rediscovery of the synthesizer had left me a bit confused. Synthesizers don't generally summon particularly good mental images, unless of course one is a fan of overly schmaltzy "Rocky"-endings or big-poofy-hair bands of the late 80's. When bands like The Killers and Motion City Soundtrack recently decided that is was time to dig up that particular grave, the results were less than stellar. The best tracks The Killers had to offer were relatively synth-free anyway (a la "Mr. Brightside,") and Motion City Soundtrack's whining casio-lines were more annoyingly catchy than musical. Neither band profited from the relic, and both suffered. But M83's sophomore release, "Before the Dawn Heals Us,” has absolved my doubt. M83 succeeds where others before them failed: namely, in making the synthesizer an addition to, not a subtraction from, the music, and masterful one at that. The soaringly, hauntingly, painfully, and at times creepily beautiful tracks on the French band's sophomore release are well worth their weight in any arbitrary precious metal, as well as $17.99 or a couple months of grating "Somebody Told Me" choruses.

The disc's opener, "Moon Child," intros with a sparse piano progression and a few disconnected tom smacks that make it sound like we interrupted mid-song. Soon the soothing, ethereal voice of American actress Kate Moran informs us that, "They say I made the moon/Everything was in the dark/No memories at all, just a tiny freezing wind in my back." When this strange narration concludes, a falling drum fill leads us into the first dripping synthesizer parts, while more ghostly voices sing a lilting "Ooh" chorus in the background. While nothing more really happens, except for the increased tempo of the muted drums and a few added electronic noises, the result is still an exquisite ear-trip. At the end, Moran wraps it up with the quavering words "Something was missing/I realized I was in love with the voice/I called it again, but all I heard was the echo in the light." This kind of apparent contradiction happens often on the night-themed album, with many more references to light in the scattered lyrics.

Following "Moon Child" is "Don't Save Us from the Flames," the album's only song with a remotely normal construction. Leading with the same falling drum fill and fuzzed-out synthesizer craziness as the opener, it quickly fades to the same couple of piano notes over and over as M83's lone remaining brain child, Anthony Gonzalez, half-mumbles "Out of the flames/A piece of brain in my hair." The synthesizer returns, which is joined by airy voices shrieking "Tina!" The contrast of these voices and Gonzalez's gentle tenor are pleasing as the song descends into a cascade of synthesizer-drum interplay, eventually burning itself out as opposed to ever really ending.

This two-track concentration of human vocalization is atypical, though. The next few tracks feature almost none; a few muttered "Something is coming now"s on "In the Cold I'm Standing" are the main exception. The track itself is a desolate collection of competing and complementing synth notes; if you close your eyes, you can almost feel the snow hitting your closed eyelids in the darkness of a burned-out streetlight. "Fields, Shorelines, and Hunters" churns itself into a frenzy of thumping drum work and wailing electronic noise, then draws to a calm close. The next track, "*," picks up where its predecessor wimped out, with a wall of distorted synth and bass noise and the most involved drumming of the album. If comparisons to the all-instrumental Explosions in the Sky hadn't been drawable by track seven, titled "I Guess I'm Floating," then the eerily similar homage just does that for the record and this reviewer's name-dropping abilities.

The few weaker tracks on the album stem from sounding too much like bad synth music, which is, as previously stated, all too easy. "Farewell/Goodbye" gets caught up in overwhelming sentimentality and sounds like a Styx song gone horribly awry. "Can't Stop" features the kind of cloying synth notes that not only make you want to kill the guy that invented the stupid instrument, but also get stuck mercilessly in your head. Not that the two are unrelated. Also, Gonzalez (or whoever's singing) must have chugged like an entire tank of helium right beforehand. Finally, there's "A Guitar and a Heart," which opens benignly enough, but then transitions into the end music of a horribly corny futuristic racing video game, or something.

But the rest is sublime. Gonzalez manages to evoke the musical beauty of just about everything he touches, be it adolescent confusion ("Teen Angst"), a mother and a daughter fleeing from their abusive husband/father figure ("Car Chase Terror," the most horrifying song ever to be recorded, ever. Back off, Tool fans), or the end of the world (the album's best, "Safe"). The album's final stretch, which spans from "Safe" to the blissful "Let Men Burn Stars," to the ambiently gorgeous "Slight Night Shiver," to the album's expansive closer "Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun," is and awe-inspiring tribute to the beauty and range thereof achievable by music. When Gonzalez murmurs "God it's beautiful" mid-way through the epic "Safe," he's actually talking about an imaginary apocalypse. But it doesn't take too much imagination (or aural capacity) to realize that he's just encapsulated his own masterpiece.

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Nick Falgout. Nick Falgout was bored one day and decided to change his Chips staff information. And now, for a touching song lyric: "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case Get off my case, get off my case." ~ Radiohead, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd … More »

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