While Anthony Gonzalez keeps pitching M83 deeper into the sentimental, the band’s co-founder Nicolas Fromageau has been at work carving out a more sinister side of electro-gaze—or “coldgaze”, as a press release for Rituals calls it. Since leaving M83 in 2004, Fromageau has released two competent, acerbic EPs with Team Ghost, but the band’s debut full-length falls short of its conceit of being M83’s evil twin. For all his attempts at darkness, Fromageau can’t shake the pretty effusiveness that bolstered M83’s first few albums to the spotlight.
While opener “Away” could pass with ease as an early M83 B-side, its soft haze is soon cleared by the post-punk “Curtains”. Despite its harsh downstrokes, the record’s leading single arrives wearing more glitter than grit. The sheen on Rituals is well-practiced, but it makes the record’s naughtier moments seem ridiculous. Fromageau claims he’s written in the “pervy stuff”, but the album’s few sexual moments are too lyrically clumsy to be subversive to anyone except pre-teens hearing the F-word in a song for the first time.
The record’s soft middle, when Team Ghost drops its aggressive pretense, actually becomes its most endearing moment. “Things Are Sometimes Tragic” envelopes Fromageau’s lonely whispers in autotune, while “Zeit” shirks the predictable explosions that dot the rest of Rituals for a icy, introspective melancholy. But the second half of “Blood” soon breaks the spell with another storm of drums and synths—a bang so tired by now that it may as well be a whimper.
Rituals dips lowest at the eponymous track “Team Ghost”, a muddy vat of clean guitar, gloomy bass, and screeching synths. “We are the new team / We are Team Ghost,” Fromageau speak-sings, as if posing in a gleaming leather jacket at the start of a gang fight. Then, tellingly, he relents: “You’re as confused as I am.” That’s one word for it.
Essential Tracks: “Zeit”