Although I was born in the ‘80s, I can’t say I grew up during that decade. I’m a ‘90s kid and I was heavily influenced by the grunge era, hip-hop, and, as the ‘00s approached, indie rock. In fact, I can’t remember ever being affected by, let alone listening to ‘80s music when I was a young chap. Although now I can appreciate synth-pop, new-wave, and other genres that sprouted in the ‘80s, I suppose I was simply too young to understand the power of the dueling vocals in Tears For Fears. I was too caught up in Tee-Ball to appreciate Liz Fraser’s beautiful voice with Cocteau Twins. I was too naïve to recognize that the words “just like heaven” were far more profound than a comparison to the sky when Robert Smith sang them with The Cure. Despite all of this, ‘80s music has the ability to take me back to that decade, even though I was just a kid. That is, ‘80s music has an engulfing nostalgia surrounding it and it can bring anyone back to that decade, no matter your birth date. When you hear songs from the ‘80s, they conjure memories of that period, whether it’s a cheesy teen film or that terrible garb. And, what’s best is that the synthetic, kitschy pop music of the ’80s has such a youthful charm to it that it seems to bring everyone back to their youth, whether you grew up before, during, or after that decade. Who doesn’t want to dance like a kid when they hear The Cure’s “Close to Me”? There was also a small niche for ground-breaking artists to blossom during the ‘80s – the entire 4AD catalog comes to mind – and when these artists are heard, they still seem to have an ‘80s sound, as if it is subliminally stated in each song. Some bands managed to crossover into that niche such as Talk Talk, although that transition didn’t occur until 1991 with Laughing Stock. Regardless, ‘80s music has a powerful influence on listeners, whether it is simple or revolutionary, bringing to mind the memories or perceptions of that period in time. So, it’s quite strange that one of the best ‘80s albums, one that embraces both the simplicity and occasional innovation of that decade, will be released on April 15, 2008.
Anthony Gonzalez, better known as M83, has built a career on ambient, yet progressive shoegaze music. His breakthrough album,Dead Cities, Red Seas, & Lost Ghosts, when teamed with Nicolas Fromageau, was synth-driven and was very much influenced by the ambient, melodic sounds of Boards of Canada’s revolutionary 1998 album, Music Has The Right To Children. The follow-up, Before the Dawn Heals Us, was more forcefully melodic, like My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 classic, Loveless, but replaced the guitars with synthesizers. Largely, it seemed that Gonzalez was superbly replicating the innovative sounds of the ‘90s. However, on his latest release, Saturdays=Youth, Gonzalez trails even further back, into the ‘80s.
Saturdays=Youth encapsulates the ‘80s better than any one band did during that decade. It blends the goth-rock of The Cure, the etherealness of Cocteau Twins, and the driving melodies of Tears for Fears, but maintains M83’s atmospheric prowess and sheen production that it allows the album to maintain its relevance. It is as nostaligic as any ‘80s album can be. Songs such as “Kim & Jessie” and “Graveyard Girl” could fit perfectly in the soundtrack to any ‘80s teen film. A song such as “Skin of The Night” would have made Ivo Watts-Russell, founder of the pioneering 4AD Records in the early ‘80s, sign M83 in a heartbeat, as it very much resembles Cocteau Twins. Another ‘80s-reminscent track is “Too Late,” which brings to mind Tears for Fears but, as with the rest of the album, has a modern sound, mostly due to the lush production, which, ironically, makes it sound contemporary while being very much nostalgic.
Some may argue that Gonzalez has dropped his ambient, shoegazing sound and shifted toward a new direction. However, I would have to disagree with such an argument for two reasons. First, there is a common thread throughout the album that is consistent with M83’s previous releases and that is the atmosphere. The production value in each song is worth its weight in gold as it creates a large, robust sound for each little ‘80s tribute to dance or drift in. Gonzalez has mastered the ability to create such atmospheres, this time with the help of Ken Thomas (Sigur Ros, Cocteau Twins) and Ewan Pearson (The Rapture, Ladytron). Listen to the grandiosity of opener “You, Appearing” and closer “Midnight Souls Still Remain” and recognize how powerful Gonzalez makes a simple melody sound. The second reason such an argument is unmerited is because it takes away from Gonzalez’s genius. Although Saturdays=Youth is, as a whole, different from his previous releases, listening to this record with the knowledge of what Gonzalez has produced prior makes the album all the more fascinating. Knowing that Talk Talk was made famous by “It’s My Life” makes Laughing Stock and each subsequent album that much more amazing. It brings in a broader perspective of the band and knowing where Anthony Gonzalez is coming from, recognizing where Saturdays=Youth fits amongst the entire M83 catalog, makes the album that much more brilliant. It is one of the best albums of the year, thus far, and will likely remain that way; but, more significantly, it is the best ‘80s album that didn’t come out of that decade.
- Caleb Morairty
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