VIDEO: M83, "Graveyard Girl"
“My relationship to the music of the ’80s is very genuine. There’s no irony to it.”
How I’d love to believe Anthony Gonzalez, who’s phoning me from France prior to M83’s stateside romp — but it’s hard. I’m damaged. In this age of rampant musical disingenuousness and resultant blanket mistrust, there’s a degree to which everything seems like a put-on. Irony is like Jenga: one false move (one excessively cheesy synth preset, one too egregious 808 sample, one shade of eyeliner too teal) can send the whole thing collapsing. Thanks to overuse and abuse, irony has developed a tendency to coil into itself, becoming a frivolous accessory — sort of like a snap bracelet on both counts, I suppose. (Is comparing irony to a snap bracelet ironic? I can’t even tell anymore.) Yet despite being done to death, irony is not for amateurs and is often more trouble than it’s worth.
Still, I’ve been listening to “Kim and Jessie” off M83’s overt opus-to-the-’80s Saturdays = Youth for like the last month straight. It’s transformed my daily experience of the Green Line from a soulless cattle march into a cool underground rocket that I and dozens of friendly strangers ride into the gleaming morning light of spring. That sort of thing.
An unabashed tribute to that pre-shoegazy strata of ’80s music so often obscured by VH1-sanctioned insistence on “guilty pleasure” abortions like hair metal and “Come On Eileen,” Saturdays celebrates the golden era of alternative rock — before a capital A could spoil the notion. In the opening burst of “Kim and Jessie” — directly after a synthetic drum fill that could have been ganked from Roland Orzabal’s purse — you can hear My Bloody Valentine in the howl of the guitar, Talk Talk in its textured elegance, and the Cure (or even Siouxsie) in its dark exuberance. What’s more, you can practically hear Molly Ringwald letting out a forlorn sigh as her 16th birthday goes to shit.
“Most of my influences are from America,” Gonzalez says when I ask whether there’s a French John Hughes. “I grew up listening to American bands, watching American movies. It’s like I have the same culture as you guys.” Although he does cite the analog-synth soundtracks of François DeRoubaix as influential, and though the songs ooze Europe through shades of Depeche Mode, Cocteau Twins, and Duran Duran, Saturdays has an American feel to it — perhaps because it echoes music that defined a blissful idea of “otherness” for so many pouty, angsty pre-Internet teens.
Despite the gauzy ambient glow and the crush-enticing melodic simplicity that Gonzalez mastered over the course of his previous albums (notably 2003’s Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts and 2005’s Before the Dawn Heals Us), much of the older material was burdened by its post-rock attitudes and icy digitality. This time around, he worked with producer Ken Thomas (Cocteau Twins, Suede) to create a throwback warmth, Ewan Pearson (Ladytron, the Rapture) to provide some contemporary gusto, and vocalist Morgan Kibby (a ringer for Kate Bush) to imbue the songs with authenticity. They make you feel younger, less creaky, more given to living.
“I loved being a teenager,” Gonzalez explains. “Drinking beers, smoking pot, having fun for nothing. You felt so confident, like the master of your world. Even when you did stupid things as a teenager, it seemed very cool.”
And, sure, dancing down that thin line between homage and irony may be a stupid thing to do. But at least Gonzalez isn’t the only one getting thrills from it.
M83 + BERG SANS NIPPLE + MATTERS & DUNAWAY | Middle East downstairs, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge | June 2 at 9 pm | $12-$14 | 617.864.EAST | mideastclub.com