M83‘s Anthony Gonzalez has finally accomplished what too many recent artists have attempted multiple times. He’s made a pure pop record for the bedroom floor. The twist? He wasn’t even in a bedroom when he carved it out. While speaking with Pitchfork on the new LP, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, Gonzalez explained, “I feel like an old guy saying this, but nowadays everything is made in a bedroom on a computer. I’m not denying that it’s a great time for music — and I listen to and enjoy tons of homemade music — but I need to go in a studio and work with musicians.” He’s right. Dreaming gives off a fresh electrical whiff — a similar scent that Radio Shack or Best Buy shares — and that’s what makes it so dazzling. It’s polished, but it needs to be. Gonzalez has sketched out an atmosphere that must be heard to detail. No bedroom recording would ever suffice.
But it doesn’t even matter because you’re still in the bedroom. Through the double album’s 22 tracks, which amount to a hearty 74 minutes, Gonzalez sits you on the familiar wooden floors, next to your bedroom window, under the blue midnight hue. It’s a magical adventure. (When was the last time you said that without being sarcastic?) Songs like the wintry sauna ballad “Claudia Lewis” or the friendly scavenger hunt of “Year One, One UFO” tickle the memories with an array of wistful sounds. It doesn’t take a know-it-all to recognize the blatant use of synthesizers, but what about the tepid drumming, finger-scattered basslines, alleyway saxophones, and seemingly endless supply of guitars? Gonzalez spares no expense here. You’re constantly climbing, soaring, shimmying, and crawling — even if you haven’t moved an inch.
These days, everyone’s toying around with offshoot tunnels into nostalgia. (There are plenty of recent essays on it.) Gonzalez doesn’t avoid this (see: “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire”), but he’s more apt to go beyond. He wants to create something else. In the same aforementioned interview, he stated, “For me, the imaginary world is so much more powerful than real life, and I don’t really want to be bothered by real life. I would rather live in an imaginary world forever. My music is my retreat.” Past M83 efforts breathe from this mentality — especially his last LP, 2008’s slightly leaner Saturdays = Youth. What Dreaming does is string together all his sounds from yesteryear and not only move forward, but above.
Early track “Wait” could fit on any number of Gonzalez’s past entries, but there’s this high ceiling ethos to it. The Floyd-esque acoustic work, the synths that belong to Edgar Froese, and the chorus’s high-pitched vocals all scream for bigger and better places. (Though, judging from Gonzalez’s forthcoming itinerary, which includes a handful of smaller clubs, he’s bound to shatter the traditional expectations of an intimate live show.) Later on, “Splendor” channels the lost dreams of Phil Spector, utilizing just about everything a modern musician can find. A choir supports, a synth conducts, and some acoustic guitar and piano interplay keep the floor within reach. It’s haunting. It’s ambitious.
But ambition doesn’t come without its share of consequences. Naturally, with 22 tracks at hand, Gonzalez meanders some, but not too much. Mostly it’s just the album’s four or five intermissions that tire on repeated listens, specifically “Fountains” and “Another Wave From You”. While necessary strands in the concept’s overall fabric, at least in terms of cohesion, they end up acting like buffer zones to the real deal.
And although Dreaming sports slower, more introspective ballads (“Soon, My Friend”, “Splendor”), there’s also a pantry’s worth of interstellar jams, chock-full of sounds you’ve probably never heard before. It’s a dizzying series of delirious affairs: Zola Jesus marries Gonzalez vocally on ”Intro”, “Midnight City”‘s crunchy, urgent synth line uppercuts on repeat, while latter favorites a la the lightspeed jaunt of “New Map” and the future set closer “Steve McQueen” will undoubtedly rocket up those hits on iTunes. Thanks to some fine sequencing, these bursts of adrenaline keep you from dozing off into beatific daydreams.
Gonzalez studied well. Having worked with producer Ken Thomas on his last LP, he opted this time around for Justin Meldal-Johnson, a multi-instrumentalist whose resume includes assorted jobs with dozens of rock ‘n’ roll mainstays, though one major highlight is his musical direction alongside Beck. On Dreaming, Meldal-Johnson has retained several elements from Saturdays = Youth, though he’s added gobs of gloss. Oddly enough, that’s probably the best decision any producer could have made here. This is a straight-up pop record, ripped from the sleeves of a guy who straight-up loves pop. With Dreaming, Gonzalez digs deeper into his influences, crafting what he’s heard all these years. The end result is an incredibly ambitious and personal effort that shines, sparkles, and thrills. Some might complain at the length, but they’d be missing the point: This isn’t a consumer’s album. It’s a listener’s. And the time has come to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Essential Tracks: “Claudia Lewis”, “Midnight City”, and “Steve McQueen”