Tuesday, December 30, 2008

digital shades vol. 1 by m83

Review by guest hipster and Plastic Snow contributor: PWC

The 80s synthesizer-driven soundtrack is an oft-visited reference point for M83’s singular sound. Anthony Gonzalez, the man behind M83, has referenced the soundtracks and films (especially those of the John Hughes variety) of that era as inspirations with a refreshing lack of ironic detachment. And M83’s recently-issued-on-CD Digital Shades Volume 1, sounds not just 80s-soundtrack-inspired, but like it actually could be an 80s soundtrack. Vangelis, Giorgio Moroder and Tangerine Dream all have done their share of soundtracks in that era, and M83 sounds here like this could very well be a collection of cues, atmospheric swells and mood pieces from some swooning, dystopian teen sci-fi odyssey.

This album is expressly ambient, and none of the characteristic assault of huge drums and massive guitar lines are present here. Instead, this is a softer, and I think more haunting, album than Before the Dawn Heals Us and Saturdays = Youth. The detuning warp and warble of these songs is reminiscent of Boards of Canada, more so than is obvious in M83’s other work. The album feels cut from the same cloth as Brian Eno’s Music for Films, and indeed, Gonzalez has repeatedly mentioned Music for Airports as one of his favorite albums, one that he carries around with him when traveling.

In all honesty, when this album initially came out (in download-only form), I was not particularly excited, as I had mostly not enjoyed the "pure" ambient pieces on M83’s albums half as much as the bombastically gorgeous towers of shoegaze his drum-driven songs offered. Actually listening to this album however, has been a delightful experience – this is a wonderfully lush ambient record, full of a tone and emotional richness too often lacking in many ambient albums. Gonzalez is being intimate, vulnerable even, in the songs here, a point driven home by the feeling of secrecy lent by the whispered vocals that are sprinkled through the album. It feels like a special album, one to go to sleep to, one to turn on as you crawl into bed after an emotionally draining day. And I think Gonzalez would be very pleased if you did just that.

mp3: "A Guitar and a Heart " by M83 (from the album Before the Dawn Heals Us)
mp3: "We Own The Sky (Maps Remix)" by M83

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