CD Review of Saturdays=Youth by M83
Recommended if you like
Kate Bush, Joy Division, Spiritualized, The Cure
M83: Saturdays=Youth

Reviewed by Jason Thompson


esus, who turned the Wayback Machine to 1984? Seriously, it’s hard to imagine any other modern day album sounding more unnervingly ‘80s than this latest disc from M83. The synths being used, the unashamed way that synth drums are employed ferociously left and right, the chord progressions and melodies that seem familiar somehow but are all very much new, and the oddball lyrics packed into each song make Saturdays=Youth not only sound but distinctly feel like a moment frozen from some 24-odd years ago. Unfortunately, those same qualities that make this work so polarizing and magnetic are the things that ultimately weight it down.

But take note: this is definitely a headphones album. Back in the day, stuff like Dark Side of the Moon was considered something you’d strap your headphones on and listen to in a dark room, blissed out on whatever made you feel groovier…or not. Sometimes the music itself was enough to take you into those other dimensions. This album is like that. Put the ‘phones on, turn the lights out, and just listen to every fucking last nuance in the mix and production of this work. It’s almost staggering as to what’s going on at all times in these tunes. It’s also enough to make this album feel surreal to the point of being disturbing. The last time I personally had this kind of reaction to a pop album was when I first heard Area’s Fragments of the Morning years ago.

But unlike that band and that album, which used a spare kind of electronic minimalism at its heart, M83 goes full throttle into an angel dust wonderland. The opening cut, “You Appearing,” sounds like Spiritualized circa Laser Guided Melodies (an awesome album unto itself) mixed with Blue Bell Knoll-era Cocteau Twins. And it’s here where M83’s master plan is laid out: eerie and haunting musical passages giving way to lyrical motifs that are repeated over and over, sort of like the hooks to an old Hall & Oates hit, but with far darker and luridly appealing results.

In a twin homage to all that ‘80s Goth sensationalism, both “Kim & Jessie” and the purposely absurd “Graveyard Girl” go to great lengths to both embrace and poke fun of the mopers who are still followers of the Robert Smith and Siouxsie Sioux school of thought. In fact, the recitation by some faceless female in the latter song, culminating with “I’m 15 years old and I feel it’s already too late to live. Don’t you?” is arresting because of both its absurdity and how frankly casually it’s presented. It almost comes off as entirely serious the first time you hear it. Both of these tunes, though, showcase main M83er Anthony Gonzalez’s knack for a hypnotic melody, even if they do go on for a minute or so longer than they need to.

Then there’s seriously disturbing stuff like “Skin of the Night” and “Up!” that feels like it could be right at home on Kate Bush’s The Dreaming. The latter tune especially has plenty of Bush-like imagery thrown into it, and even a nod to the Hounds of Love slotted right into its lyrics. You almost want to fault the group for being too self-conscious, but you can’t, because you know it’s all for fun in the end. Still, all this tongue-in-cheek frivolity does not excuse the fact that the songs overstay their welcome when the lyrical ideas run out and everything seems to go on autopilot time and again.

Indeed, after “Up!” the album starts to become a bit predictable, and winds up culminating in an 11-minute drone called “Midnight Souls Still Remain” that is basically nothing more than a few synth chords alternating slowly as the clock unwinds. For all its pretensions and aspirations, one would think that the album would be capped off with something far grander. Alas, this is not the case. Still, Saturdays=Youth will probably go down as the weirdest release by a pop group in 2008. Certainly worth a couple spins, but expect diminished returns after the ‘80s dope wears off.

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