After delivering the minimalist, yet harsh and driving "Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts" and going through the departure of his collaborator Nicolas Fromageau, Anthony Gonzalez had quite a few challenges ahead of him through the making of this album. Would the one-man group decide to tread a similar route, go into a new wacky direction, or a healthy mixture of both?
The answer is ultimately a mixture of both elements. The overall sound haven't changed that much as bombastic and overdriven synths still command the album's content, but Gonzalez has a few more tricks up his sleeve, as well. This album has a lot more of an urban feel to it, it ties itself up into a story that the listener is invited to complete and it also introduces real-sounding instruments, such as drums, guitars and even vocals through most tracks. The vocals don't really have much of a meaning through the album and most of the time, they flirt with melodrama a lot, but their intonation make the songs work and as with most electronic albums, lyrics are not the key element of the music. What matters in the end is composition, and M83 has that filed up for you.
Songs like "Don't Save Us From The Flames", "*" and "Teen Angst" show M83's ability to explore a rockier territory while using his trademark and not compromising his vision. They're hard-driving, yet incredibly melodic at the same time. On the other hand, songs such as "On The Cold I'm Standing" take a backseat through eerie, dark ambience. The name of that particular song really says it all, as it feels lonesome and searching.
Shorter interludes pop out through the disc at times, and unlike many artists, M83 use such interludes to great effect. They do a great job at linking the tracks together and manage to go down their own way as well. Some of these even tend to recall Vangelis' more ambient pieces at times, such as the lush "Let Men Burn Stars", in which some people make some fireworks explode in the sky as the song plays. It sounds ridiculous and hopelessly romantic, and it probably is. On the other hand, the approach is original and is certainly more abstract than any of those corny songs you'll hear on the FM radio.
However, there are times where indulgence gets a bit too much within the album's way. "Car Chase Terror", while being a decent track composition-wise, is ruined by incredibly corny B-movie dialogue which is about a woman being scared by a killer, piling up line after line such as "Don't you worry butterfly, mommy will keep the killer away...". Its cringe-worthy and cliché approach just fail to add up to the album as a whole as it feels too disconnected. "Fields, Shorelines and Hunters" is more of a filler track as well, featuring some rather corny, uplifting melodies and an annoying drum track.
This album is ultimately not a great jump up from the group's former album, the more ambient-driven and pastoral "Dead Cities..." but this album has enough uniqueness to satisfy fans of the former outing of the band whilst attracting other open-minded music fans. Anyone who is into shoegaze rock like My Bloody Valentine (to whom M83 have been compared a lot to) or slower, pop-oriented electronic bands such as Air should find something to enjoy here, provided you have the required patience to wade through some of the album's occasional stabs at indulgence. Definitely worth a listen.