Album: M83, "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" (Mute US)
It's a double album, so you're probably already thinking: "What's wrong with it?"
But before we try to answer that question, Anthony Gonzalez, the primaryagent provacateur behind French electronica act M83, would first like you to believe it was never a double to begin with, just two regular albums that somehow managed to end up inside the same package (it's a pretty package, too: Gonzalez remains one of the last people in the world who seems to care about cover art and presentation); don't lump us in with those crusty old double-LP three-glyph behemoths like ELO and UFO and ELP or even XTC, please.
Although he didn't actually go that far, instead describing "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" to various interviewers as "brother and sister," thematic mirror-siblings who can only properly be appreciated in reflection of the other. It's a lot to ask of pop fans, even those familiar with M83's weird but appealing mix of '80s New Wave, '90s shoegaze and a sort of hardscrabble electro-bop that could only come from the Aughts. In fact, throwing 22 more tracks out there following the 60+ minutes (plus 20 additional minutes of bonus material) of 2008's "Saturdays = Youth" would feel passive-aggressive coming from most bands.
But M83 aren't most bands. After patiently waiting out the five-minute intro (called "Intro") that consists mostly of swirling keyboard noises and hopeful yammering, you finally get to the good stuff. "Midnight City" and "Reunion" neatly symbolize what people who love this group love about this group, namely an uncanny ability to wake up the '80s without disturbing the ghosts best left buried. M83: you'll come for the Big Country yelps, but you'll walk away appreciating drum machines like you never thought you'd appreciate drum machines.
But does it blend? Following another pointless swirly filler interlude, "Wait" is practically begging to be used as soundtrack to a commercial about a wet dog or a baby taking its first steps. It screams things like FINANCIAL SECURITY and QUALITY FOOTWEAR at the top of its lungs. Fortunately the following tracks -- including the baby-talk cute "Raconte-Moi Une Histoire" -- pull the thick gauze back a little bit. "Claudia Lewis" continues in the steal-from-Depeche-Mode-to-pay-off-Ultravox mode, but "This Bright Flash" could almost be an Arcade Fire tune, all hips and swagger with the slightest suggestion of an emo swoop. The elegiac "Soon, My Friend" ends disc one on an oddly syrupy note. If Gonzalez is to be believed, Smashing Pumpkins' "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" was a big inspiration for this album. That set, you might remember, ended its first act with the saccharine "Take Me Down," which lends credence to this idea.
If there's a "night and day" aspect to "Hurry Up," it's not immediately apparent. The instrumental "My Tears Are Becoming a Sea" builds slowly to a feedback-draped conclusion, but the following cuts remain fixed, more or less, within M83's target zone: synth-drenched navelgazing fuzzcore. "New Map" is assertively pouty, while the perfectly Britwave "OK Pal" bounces around like someone trying to start a dance war in a convention of people who love chairs. "Give us a chance," a spoken interlude remonstrates, and you have to wonder who's being asked to do what here: presumably those who have gotten this far into the thing have already signed on for cleanup duties.
"Splendor" darkens the palette a bit, but it's really just more filler, another cypher for the discard pile, which is beginning to accumulate at a rather unsettling rate of expansion. "Year One, One UFO" might be the best thing on here, though, and it doesn't even do it with real words or anything, just swirls of color and clever grafts of guitars (both acoustic and electric -- this might be the missing link for M83) and a sort of Polyphonic Spree-like enthusiasm (let's all run in the fields together and wear cloaks like druids except they're colorful!) that doesn't press its luck at staying welcome.
Of the five cuts remaining on the disc, only two -- "Steve McQueen," which is sort of driving rock as imagined by the guys in A-ha, and "Echoes of Mine," sort of a Sigur Ros song with the spoken words in French instead of Hopelandic -- are actual songs. The rest are just impressionistic daubs of paint, although "Klaus I Love You" sports some lovely popcorn-synth and happy disco moves and really could or should have been extended past its paltry minute-forty. There's a serious lack of meat as we chug around third base, and most of it comes down to Gonzalez trying to fit too many colors on the canvas, which is usually the case with artists wanting to do far too many things in far too little space; the usually make way more space than they need and then forget what they were trying to fit inside of it. The Flaming Lips solved this problem once by making an album that could only be listened to by playing it on four different CD players at the same time, thus assuring that no one would ever actually want to listen to the thing. Achievement = unlocked.
So that answer you were waiting for? It's a double album. That is what's wrong with it.