Tuesday, March 21, 2023

M83’s ‘Junk’ is fun despite shortcomings | Album Review


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Aside from composing soundtracks for a Tom Cruise sci-fi flick about clones/aliens/clone aliens/Morgan Freeman and a French erotic drama, electronic band M83 has remained fairly silent in the four years following the release of 2011’s critically acclaimed Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.

With a few changes to the lineup and a wealth of new sounds, M83 released their seventh studio album, Junk, on Friday.

Junk’s sound is a departure from that of its predecessors. Frontman/creative guru Anthony Gonzalez delves into funk, jazz, disco and various other styles as he attempts to create something unlike M83’s typical, vast walls of buzzing synth and thundering drums.

Hardcore fans of the band’s older work may very well consider Junk to be junk, but I have found that the songs on this album lend themselves to a live setting more effectively than anything M83 has previously created. Compared to the massive clusters of electronic, noisy chords found in the band’s previous work, the instrumentation of Junk is much more organic. The sounds actually feel discernable from one another, and many of the tracks contain healthy doses of real instruments such as horns and piano. The album’s second track “Go!” even features a gnarly electric guitar solo from legendary guitarist Steve Vai that’s worthy of any 1980s hair metal song.

Junk is by no means a bad album. The runtime sits at just five minutes shy of an hour, making it an easy listen. Despite some odd song placement and the presence of some less-than-unique dance songs, Junk maintains a fun atmosphere. The first three songs on the album “Do It, Try It,” “Go!” and “Walkway Blues” set a promising precedent for the remainder of the record.

“Do It, Try It” kicks off the album with bouncing piano and a thumping disco bass drum. The whimsically positive vibe of the verses contrasts with the dark, desperate yelping of the hook. This distinction leads to a climax of swirling synths that feels like an auditory descent into madness. “Go!” is an infectious pop anthem, reminiscent of 1980s Miami and undoubtedly the most radio-ready track on Junk. “Walkway Blues” is gliding and groovy, accentuated by saxophone stabs, a growling bass line and melodic sci-fi sounds. While the drums on the song’s verse sound like a live kit, the hook contains faint, rapid hi-hats typically reserved for the likes of trap music and hip-hop.

Despite the strong the start, the album does tend to sound slightly more and more generic as it progresses. Songs like “Bibi The Dog” and “Laser Gun” are fun and danceable, but don’t present anything unique or enticing. The same idea applies to “Time Wind” which features alternative rock mastermind Beck. I expected a lot more from such a promising collaboration, but unfortunately, “Time Wind” is pretty forgettable.

The album contains quite a few slow ballads as well, all of which sound fairly dissimilar to one another. “For The Kids” sounds like the theme to a high school prom slow dance from 30 years ago. “Atlantique Sud” is sung exclusively in French and features male and female vocals. The two voices almost interrupt one another as each seemingly serenades the other. This effect is very creative, unlike the song’s bland instrumentation. Such monotony and lack of instrumental creativity is my biggest issue with these slower songs. “Solitude” is my personal favorites of these ballads, solely based on the fact that the song ends with a wonderfully grandiose orchestral arrangement.

Overall, Junk is very listenable. It may not be the best electronic album you hear this year, and it certainly has its shortcomings. However, I can always appreciate an artist’s desire to stray from his or her typical sound, and I believe Junk succeeds in this regard more than not.

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To contact Lifestyles editor Tanner Dedmon email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

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