M83 – Before the Dawn Heals Us

M83
Before the Dawn Heals Us

The results of artists dreaming impossibly big are decidedly mixed. Sometimes, you end up with The Wall or even Use Your Illusion – unwieldy albums that only true fans of the bands can enjoy. Most of the time we end up with a Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness or even Born to Run – uneven albums that split music fans about even. Only occasionally does an artist dream huge – London Calling, Loveless – do we end up with the glorious piece of art they envisioned.

It would be difficult to compare M83’s new album, Before the Dawn Heals Us, with any of the aforementioned albums. It will receive neither the widespread fan support nor long-winded discussions it truly needs to be remembered like that. But there is no doubt that M83 frontman Anthony Gonzalez dreams on a wider screen than your average indie rocker, and more impressively, his successes are difficult to deny.

Gonzalez, a French native, released his breakthrough, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts last year to the tune of a million My Bloody Valentine references. His soupy compositions often carried the air of a Kevin Shields wall of sound, but his reliance on keyboards and electronics distanced him from easy comparisons. On Before the Dawn Heals Us, Gonzalez changes little but the feel of the album. Synthesizers and guitars still mingle and roam about the soundscapes. There are more vocals but they rarely take over a song. Only on the whimsical, beautiful drone of “Can’t Stop” do vocals play anything more than a secondary role.

The cover art of Before the Dawn Heals Us is somewhat telling. Gonzalez has shifted his focus from haunting rural meditations to heavenly anthems of light and motion. There is a distinct mid-80s keyboard feel here, though Gonzalez thankfully never slips into synth-pop revivalism. Instead, he takes the bludgeoning walls of sound that he honed on Dead Cities and turns its gaze upward, utilizing choirs and swooping vocals to portray his vision of sonic bliss.

The sugar-high blitz of “Don’t Save Us from the Flames” is Gonzalez’s most pure pop moment to date, alternating between impossibly lovely bursts of guitars and angel sighs to subdued whispers. “Teen Angst” makes good on its hideous title, actually managing to convincingly deliver lyrics like “How fast we burn! / How fast we die! / I hear the planet crying now.” Even the hushed interlude of “Farewell / Goodbye” sounds for all the world like it belongs.

Perhaps the best part of Gonzalez’s vision is that he rarely indulges any sort of transparently arty intent. The stop/start blasts of “*” are as close as the album gets to “weird.” Instead, tracks with brilliantly pretentious titles – “Let Men Burn Stars” or “Lower Your Eyelids to Die with the Sun” – smolder with pure passion, joy, and beauty.

Gonzalez only truly misses his mark on the dark B-movie rambling of “Care Chase Terror,” which is exactly what it sounds like, complete with some bad voice acting. For the rest of this hopelessly huge album, Gonzalez bathes us in a sound so big and enveloping that it’s impossible not to bask in its powerful, optimistic glow.