MIDNIGHT AMBITION “For me, making cinematic music is almost natural,” says Anthony Gonzalez of M83. “I feel like I’m better at writing ambient songs than writing pop songs.”
Music occupies time but not space, meaning that a musician's musical indulgences tend to stretch out in time to make up for the fact that, once emitted, the signals disappear in the aether like wisps of nothing disappearing into more nothing. When a musician sits down at his or her given instrument or machine and attempts to make something grand, it's hard to resist the instinct to produce something that stretches out in time — but for some, making music that is truly epic, music that can contain a glimpse of the immensity of the world we inhabit, is their rare gift.
Anthony Gonzalez, the 30-year-old French polymath who has been doing business for the past decade under his nom de guerre M83, has been conducting extensive research into the outer reaches of epic music, specializing in washed-out landscapes and a frenzied sense of maximalism that has become his hallmark. But his excursions are never indulgent, and with the release this fall of the double-disc masterstroke Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (Mute), he may have reached his apex, exploding song and sound into a pop eruption of shimmering beauty.
"I feel like I'm still learning," Gonzalez tells me in his thick French accent, speaking from the home studio in his newly adopted hometown of Los Angeles. It was here that he recorded Hurry Up, his first album not made in France, and his follow-up to 2008's Saturdays = Youth, his extremely successful fourth album that saw him stepping up his pop-smithing and dialing back the lengthy instrumental synth-jams that had made him a rising star in the shoegaze universe. "For me, making cinematic music is almost natural. I feel like I'm better at writing ambient songs than writing pop songs — I'm still learning how to write a three- or four-minute song. For me, it's really hard; I want to go 15 minutes a song!"
Saturdays = Youth made him an indie star on the strength of pop-sounding hits like "Kim & Jessie" and "Graveyard Girl" — songs that conjoined his knack for gaping, enormous sound with themes of teenage insecurity, all now contained in short, sharp shocks of pop wonder. Put back-to-back with other hits of 2008, a track like "Kim and Jessie" sounds like a portal to an infinite dimension, one where sadness, joy, and ecstasy fight for your attention in a grandiose thunderdome. Which makes it almost comical that, upon embarking on Hurry Up, Gonzalez had somehow to ramp himself up even more. How epic can epic be? Gonzalez was going to find out — he had trekked across the world's enormodomes, opening shows for the likes of the Killers, Kings of Leon, and Depeche Mode, and then he moved to LA and experienced the vast expanses of Southern California.
The resulting album is as sprawling as Gonzalez's adopted hometown, filled with lush dance jams, frenzied rocket-taking-off-in-your-head scorchers, glacial tinkling-piano meditations, padded-shouldered '80s funk-rock, and random detonated drum bursts and explosions of sound and emotion. It's an album with one foot in the city and one in the vast big-sky'd desert — which is pretty much where it was written and recorded. "I love being in the city, but I love getting away," Gonzalez says, "and this is exactly what I love about living in LA: you can drive your car for two hours and be in the desert, or the mountains, or the ocean. There are so many options for you to get away, and I wanted all of that."