Most solo musical acts choose to be identified by their own name or a stage name. In either case, something indicating their solitude. More rarely though, we see a solo act taking on a more band-like name — Tame Impala comes to mind — leading listeners to believe there are multiple contributors.
One such example is M83, the French electronic act whose dreamy sounds have spread all over the globe since 2001. Originally formed by Anthony Gonzalez and Nicolas Fromageau, Gonzalez has been the sole member of M83 since 2004 and is responsible for the majority of its work.
The band received critical acclaim during the mid-2000s, but its commercial success came on the back of 2011’s “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” and its lead single “Midnight City,” which established their signature sound.
As time moved forward, Gonzalez’ sound evolved — shifting both backward and toward the sounds of the ‘70s and ‘80s. M83’s most recent release, “Fantasy,” is the zenith of this progression, heavily incorporating the wide, ambient sounds of synth-pop.
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Where the tracks that made M83 famous are danceable and in-your-face, much of this album is more ethereal. “Water Deep,” the album’s opener, begins with soft acoustic guitar and layers in lengthy synth chords to create an expansive and immersive texture.
The song has no words, ushering in the album with a calm and contemplative soundscape. Slight rhythm and harmony thrum underneath the synths, allowing the listener something to latch onto before a seamless transition to “Oceans Niagara.”
Here, the album begins to show more of M83’s true colors. A drum backbeat joins the fray, still surrounded by synths and rhythmic guitar chords. The lyrical content is present, but sparse, with just a couple of lines popping up occasionally and leaving the smooth, open texture alone.
With these first two tracks, the album appears to be easing the listener in, gradually adding more complex and interesting elements. For the album listening experience, this is a nice effect, but it makes these opening tunes tough to listen to on their own, as they’re so abstemious with their most interesting features.
This trend generally continues, coming to a head on the album’s title track. In it can be heard a disco-inspired bassline and much more active drums, accompanied as always by various synths. The form is somewhat repetitive, but the rhythmic variation of the drums and synth countermelodies keep it from becoming stale.
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“Dismemberment Bureau” brings the album to a close, bringing the energy back down closer to the level at which it began. It takes its time, with echoey drums keeping time under synth harmonies that begin with wild variation and settle into a repeating groove later on.
This track is the final piece of the album’s emotional arc, which generally starts and ends low, getting more and then less intense in the interim. Of the work’s strengths, this is perhaps the foremost; M83 has precise control over how energetic each track feels and moves the listener through them expertly.
Hand-in-hand with this control, though, is the fact that the album has a continuous sound that persists throughout. This is a trademark of the music that inspired “Fantasy,” wherein an album can begin to feel like one long track. Clearly, this is attractive to some, but many listeners may become bored with the adherence to one style.
Overall, “Fantasy” knows its lane and sticks to it. It explores the dreamy stylings of synth-pop thoroughly and effectively, with a clear and coherent emotional arc across its entirety. Whether it strikes you will be determined by whether or not that’s a sound you’re looking to hear.