One of the joys of pre-ordering something, weeks in advance, is forgetting about it until the day it shows up, unexpected, as a happy surprise. This happened to me last week with the re-release of M83’s 2005 album Before the Dawn Heals Us, and since it arrived I’ve been re-discovering the wonder that is their unique brand of music.
I’ve been a fan of M83 for a few years, and I’ve always found it hard to describe their sound, but the word that comes to mind is, simply, “big”. Each track is a thrill ride, as much a work of art as it is a construction project, with layers upon layers of melody and texture being stacked high until, at its climax, the listener is struck by a towering wall of sonic energy, a soaring soundscape thick with emotion yet somehow remaining ethereal. The feeling of M83’s music stretches from the most jubilant and rich (e.g. “Steve McQueen”) to the most heartbreaking (e.g. “Wait”), but is always fueled with sharp passion. It is atmospheric in nature—dream pop for the soul, with a hint of the spiritual underlying it all.
“Teen Angst” feels like a triumph, laced with minutes-long crescendos that burst into fireworks, but the lyrics betray an underlying melancholy in line with the title, and theme, of the track. It’s an adrenaline rush, but one with reservations. Ultimately, though, it’s the perfect example of the emotional pendulum that is M83.
One more thing that M83 does incredibly well is finish off their albums—sometimes with a bang, sometimes with an extended, satisfying postscript. The closing track from Before the Dawn Heals Us is a wonderful example of the latter. With a more ambient, post-rock feel, “Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun” quickly builds up its theme and then, for the drawn-out finale, slowly and deliberately expels the last breaths of the album before ultimately fading out to black.
There is much, much more amazing music on this and all of M83’s albums, and this post only scratches the surface. “Midnight City” got some quality radio airplay a year or two ago, and remains one of my favorites. “We Own the Sky” has a more traditional rock sound, but it is still definitively M83, with a gripping hook and terrific vocals. Overall, listening to M83 is a singular experience unparalleled by any other band.