The French electronic-pop group M83, fronted by Anthony Gonzalez and Jordan Lawler, recently released Junk on April 8th. The band has been around since 2001, but their 2011 album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming garnered the most attention. While they rose to fame through their 2011 hit “Midnight City,” Junk ultimately falls short of expectations. The work is, in a word, weird, as the tiny clay monsters and hamburger on the album’s quirky cover art indicate. Weird isn’t necessarily bad, as the album definitely makes for an interesting listen as it twists and turns through unexpected sounds, many of which are clearly influenced by soft ‘70s and ‘80s vibes. However, ultimately the tracks lack in both substance and continuity.
The band embraces a variety of musical elements on this album. Junk features everything from slow piano melodies to faster electronic sounds, jazz-inspired instrumental pieces and French lyrics. The album begins with “Do It, Try It,” one of the highlights of the record. The song’s psychedelic vibe and catchy melody is a lively, spirited summer tune. Other standout songs include “Walkway Blues,” which incorporates elements of smooth jazz and “Time Wind,” featuring Beck. “The Laser Gun” is one of the few songs on the album that really stands out, boasting a catchy piano melody and rhythmic drum beats that build to powerful vocals from guest artist Mai Lan. These songs showcase M83’s ability to present true variety within their repertoire.
Where the album falls short is in its lack of cohesion. Although the cover art and some of the songs may point to an overall futuristic theme, there’s no true connection among the tracks. For example, “For The Kids,” a slow, jazz ballad transitions into “Solitude,” a second slow, jazz ballad. While both songs may have the potential to cohesively unify the album, they ultimately drag on, leaving the listener feeling drowsy, breaking the album into two unconnected groups of upbeat tunes. The powerful kick we know the band is capable of is disappointingly missing. In its place are repetitive piano beats and lackluster, fuzzy vocals. Listening to Junk can feel at times like you’re floating along somewhere aimlessly, without any real direction. While it tries to force ‘70s and ‘80s nostalgia, it does so without adding anything truly innovative that simply leaves listeners feeling disinterested.
M83 is capable of producing compelling songs and knows how to excite their listeners, as demonstrated by their popular older albums, but Junk falls flat in part because it tries a little too hard to surprise. The “weird” element of Junk isn’t interesting or endearing, but instead lacks real substance and simply doesn’t tell a compelling story. Although I firmly believe that M83 has the power to create something incredible, I fail to find it in Junk.
Voice’s Choices: “Do It, Try It” and “The Laser Gun”