M83
Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
Gooom / Labels / EMI France
2003
A



french duo Nicolas Fromageau and Anthony Gonzalez till a fecund radiophonic landscape on their second album, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, farming lush expanses of synthesizer and electronic foliage with assured, emotive precision and care. Although at times M83 evoke Jean-Michel Jarre or Air, this is far from being an album of Franco-synth by numbers; it is the layered, hypertextual futurism of My Bloody Valentine and Brian Eno which seeps through the electronic Gallic gauze as the most palpable influences on Fromageau and Gonzalez’s muse.

After the ornithological introductory ambience of “Birds” gives way to oozing electronic exposition, “Unrecorded” sets up a Loveless-style bedrock of subdued guitar chugging, which acts as a propulsive foundation for a repetitive synth tapestry which owes more to the experimental minimalisms of Phillip Glass than the stadium-wooing melodic pyrokinetics of the likes of Jarre. After a couple of minutes this dynamic ascent winds itself down to a restrained, ameliorative thrum, which eventually unfurls itself from its dreamlike state into wakeful silence.

Like Eno’s 70s pre-ambient masterpieces Another Green World and Before And After Science, M83’s primary achievement with Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts is the breadth of exploration they make of the dynamic and tonal properties of an instrument most often condemned to act merely as marginal textural distraction. The synthesizer takes centre-stage on every track, from stately, aridly beatless devotional sweeps like “In Church” to thrillingly pulsative forays into dynamism on “America” and “Cyborg”. In many ways the unification of disparate sounds within the same instrument to form a cohesive statement mirrors Kevin Shields’ work harmonising sundry schemes of feedback on Loveless, and though guitars are mostly absent from M83’s work the tone is certainly one of a consistently woozy shoegazer haze. When vocals are used, which is not often, they are held in parenthesis by the brumous layers of synthesizer, wordlessly diaphanous details that hint at a human centre to the woven autumnal gossamer of machines. The fragmented female voice in “0078h” is scattered asunder by gales of keyboards and drum machines, dispersed to refract light in multitudinous directions and colours through the electrostatic miasma.

Grandiose layers of sound hint at a level of unspoken profundity, particularly on the final two tracks, of which the epic “Beauties Can Die” in particular hints at an existential cycle of death and rebirth within the confines of its 14-minute walls, lullaby electronics opening for mechanical choirs before a prolonged passage of sussurant silence unravels to reveal itself as a gestation rather than a mourning before a final, terminal denouement.

Marvellous.
Reviewed by: Nick Southall
Reviewed on: 2003-11-01
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