“Junk” not really junk at all

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Review by Nick Erickson, Staff writer

Nostalgia has its place in pop culture. People associate certain sounds and color schemes with a particular era of their life. Nostalgia can be easily attributed to music, with M83 being a clear example.

The French synthpop group has fully grasped the essence of the word with their seventh record, “Junk.” Akin to the term, the album essentially is just that: junk, although not in the negative way the word suggests. M83 has taken the highlights of the musical scope from the ’80s to early ’90s, creating a lush atmosphere bound to evoke fun memories for the youth of that era.

Anthony Gonzalez, the brain behind M83, grew up in the ’90s and has put as much of that influence into the record as he could fit. Even the album artwork looks like some sort of slightly disturbing but familiar claymation design from those days. “Junk” contains enough layers of synth to provide soundtrack to any of the Brat Pack movies and contains 15 tracks of subtle beats, vocoder-infused harmonies and spacious pianos. The vocals are rarely in the forefront, and its almost better that way. This allows the colorful imagery of instrumentals to shine. While this is different from previous endeavors, Gonzalez still gives each track enough character to make the song recognizable as an M83 track.

A voice repeating the phrase “Do it, try it” greets listeners on the opening track of the same name.  A dancey, honky-tonk style piano riff kicks in with a chunky bass line. As Gonzalez sings, tempo slows for periods of times as ambient, dreamy synths fill out the space, allowing the punchy piano chords to return. Keyboards resolve into more and more layers of keyboards as the track progresses, just as the music period it aims to capture. Its smart introduction to the album, M83 gives the listeners a taste of what is to follow with the remaining tracks: loads of ’80s aesthetics.

Singer Mai Lan is featured on “Go!” With a timbre resembling the likes of Cyndi Lauper, she was a perfect addition to the track, enhancing the vibe it builds upon. A simple synthesizer hook is repeated as a drum groove pulsates. The well-placed guitar solo in the second half of the track is icing on the cake.

Clocking in with more than six minutes, the record’s longest track proves to be one of its more beautiful parts. “Solitude” carries a chord progression with a nod toward the 007 theme song. Delicate piano chords, placed with even softer strings and a minimal high-hat/snare drum combo fuels relaxation, inducing listeners into a trance. A surprising yet epic keytar solo bursts out of nowhere and, while short, is definitely one of the highlights of the entire album. As the synthetic string ensemble crescendos, it is truly an awe-inspiring moment that makes the listener appreciate the musicianship of M83. While often minimalistic, it’s simply gorgeous and thought-provoking.

With quite a fitting title, “Sunday Night 1987” ends the album on a oddly melancholy note. Slow and dreary synth arpeggios lead the way for Gonzalez’s heavily reverbed voice, which gives the illusion that he is far away. A somber harmonica solo steals the show during the song’s latter half. This track makes it easy to paint an image of what the title encapsulates: a solemn Sunday night in the late ’80s, walking alone. This tracks contrasts from the more upbeat tracks on the record, and while it feels sad, it also feels incredibly peaceful and was a dynamic way to end the record.

M83 took what everyone enjoyed listening to in the ’80s and ’90s, modernized it, and put it into “Junk.” While it might not be anything original or reinventive of the genre, it does what it was intended to do very well: capture the feeling of the spacey, dream-like music of the past. For those who enjoy a healthy dose of nostalgia, or wish the ’80s never came to an end, pop “Junk” into the CD player and let M83 take you on a journey via an ambient masterpiece.