Review: M83 – Fantasy

Artwork for M83's 2023 album Fantasy

Where to next? Only M83 knows.

It’s absolutely a part of the human condition to discover that the thing you wanted – even if that thing came about through an accidental consequence of something you did – isn’t what you needed.

The music industry in particular has a way of chewing people up and spitting them out, and for those in the middle who just care about the art the landscape can be a pretty sobering one.

We can probably add Anthony Gonzalez – AKA M83 – to that list of reluctant participants. For many on the other/wrong/hopeful side of the mega success line, 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was the sugar that dreams are spun from; critically acclaimed, Grammy nominated and commercially successful, the single Midnight City made him one of the most sought-after performers on the planet.

Ever since then it seems he’s been running almost in the other direction. His next record Junk seemed to be a deliberate attempt to de-buzz M83, whilst its follow up Digital Shades Vol 2 disappeared almost without a trace.

The cover art for Fantasy, his ninth release and one a year in the making, writes another chapter. On it Gonzalez appears as a ‘monster’ (his words) underneath a playfully grotesque mask designed to subvert the prescience of vanity culture. It’s a metaphor for something alright.

On going in the first thing which strikes the listener however is that this is a project that sprawls; almost half of its thirteen tracks exceed five minutes, whilst ideas zoom in and out of focus at will.

Loosely based from a musical perspective on the fuzzy gauze of shoegaze, this approach allows for experimentation to be the rule as opposed to the exception.

There are glimpses of what brought M83 into so many people’s lives – especially Oceans Niagara, a towering meld of guitar and synth textures punctuated by the breathy slogan ‘beyond adventure’ (it’s not clear if there should be an exclamation mark afterwards or not).

That’s followed by Amnesia, a track that feels like it has more than a little latency to spare from Hurry Up’s…Midnight City, the words just as ecstatic: ‘Kiss the rush of me and you, automated bliss/Binding all over the touch of your hand, metal rapture.’

So far, so back on track, but things are more complicated than that. There are almost five minutes of Deceiver pretending it belongs soundtracking an exhibit in a museum before the vocals gently usher themselves in, whilst the choral high registers of Kool Nuit’s early phase eventually give way to jittery programming and a deepening sense of unease. Disco music this is not.

Navigating an enjoyable way through this well, mess, is a task which requires patience. Intricately layered, the intent seems to be for Gonzalez to use these songs to draw a cocoon around himself.

When this cloud-like sketching works the results are frustratingly great. Buried perhaps, there is still the sense that there is a classic album trying to emerge here.

Some of the fog which prevents that from happening comes via the closer Dismemberment Bureau, although its chilly analog weirdness will remind Boards Of Canada fans what they’re missing.

In the thrills column however are ‘Radar, Far, Gone’ and Laura – each sumptuous ballads – whilst Sunny Boy, after a tepid introduction, reboots itself into anthemic chillwave, but it’s the title-track that manages to be both succinct and melodic enough to drag any unwilling punters with it.

On Fantasy, Anthony Gonzalez has taken M83 down progressive side streets and up alt.pop mountains. There’s no map for where he’s going next and maybe, for him, that’s the point.

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