Album Review: M83, ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ [Mute]

French-born Anthony Gonzalez has been making music under the M83 moniker for over a decade now, making him a grandpa in the indie music scene. With that much experience under his belt, it was time for him to do something big. His previous releases, 2003’s Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts and 2008’s Saturdays=Youth, cemented his reputation as a talented producer. So when three years passed since Saturday, we knew there was a good reason.

Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is Gonzalez’s magnum opus. The two-disc set is 22 songs and over an hour long. The data files sit on your computer like hefty tomes, reminiscent of Robert Bolano’s 2666 or Haruki Murakami’s IQ84. Yet while those masterpieces are intellectual slogs, Hurry Up sucks you in effortlessly. That’s not to say it’s an emotionally easy or superficial ride. The album follows the story of a heartbreak; and there’s no one like M83 to evoke the feelings of utter isolation, ecstatic joy, or bitter heartbreak.

M83’s signature dream pop/shoegaze aesthetics are still present, but it feels more expansive and bombastic than ever. Radio hit and second track “Midnight City” is a good indicator of what to expect in Hurry Up: it’s a highly danceable track with echoing and eerie vocals and haunting lyrics. “Waiting in a car / waiting for a ride in the dark…following the neon signs / waiting for a ride… the city is my church.” If that didn’t evoke chocking loneliness (we all know that ride is not coming), there’s also a sax behind electronic seal squeaks; the effect feels crowded yet abandoned.

While the two discs are packed with club-worthy new wave tracks and cute-yet-nightmarish tunes (“Raconte – Moi Une Historie” features a precocious child talking about tripping on poisonous frogs: “your mommy suddenly becomes your daddy and everything looks like a giant cupcake”), Gonzalez knows not to wear on listeners with constant mania. “Where the Boats Go” sounds like a slow dance from a David Lynch movie, which leads into “Wait,” with lyrics like: “set your dreams where nobody hides / give your tears to the tide / no time / no time” (this song makes a kitten funeral look like a day at the carnival).

As the first disc ends, we find the singer not completely alone in the city anymore, but anxiously separated from their love. The title of “When Will You Come Home?” says it all; it’s an ambient track that can be best described as having a quiet loudness. Follower “Soon, My Friend” seems to answer the question, but not satisfyingly, as a chorus of one hopelessly repeats “I’ll be your someday.”

When disc two opens with the epic “My Tears are Becoming a Sea,” Gonzalez lets us know this is not a concept album, it’s a Greek Tragedy. Disc one begins at midnight, but by “My Tears,” we feel the pre-dawn air: “I’m slowly drifting to you / this star is a planet… I’m on my way.” M83 creates synthetic pastoral symphonies, evoking nature through cricket chirps and electronic animal noises; in this track, we can almost feel the grass growing wet with dew.

“New Map” and “OK Pal” sees the joyous fulfillment of the protagonist’s wish: “we’re walking in the streets / or what’s left of them / I take your hand / and the city is slowly vanishing.” M83’s music can be described as post-apocalyptic, and even these lyrics describe urban ruins—but as an irrelevant background to the happiness of love fulfilled.

But you didn’t think that was the end, did you? No, every good tragedy has a twist. “Splendor” brings in the piano… the slow, sad piano reverberating in an empty room. Yeah, this character spent an entire disc waiting for a relationship that lasted two songs. Like anyone who’s suffered a dumping, there’s a period of self-mourning, and then… the new dawn. A new world. On “Year One, One UFO,” M83 created the soundtrack for anyone who’s stayed up all night crying, only to watch light break and realize it’s a new day—a time to pull your emotions together and fake strength to push on with life.

It’s a shaky optimism. But instrumental “Fountains” brings in the pastoral again with bird chirping, and on “Steve McQueen,” the singer assures us “I woke up stronger than ever / driven by big waves of fire / to run and yell all the way / nothing can hurt me today.” There is redemption here, and everything the listener and the character have endured is silently taken stock of in “Echoes of Mine.”

Of course, no one bounces back that quickly. “Klaus, I Love You” doesn’t utter a word, but the title says it all. As we labor forth in “Outro” (“I’m the king of my own land / facing tempests of dust / I’ll fight until the end”), that love remains… dormant, for now.

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