Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Before the Dawn Heals Us:" A Rift Amid Real and Imagined

I was blown away by the songs I knew at M83’s recent concert, but there was also a lot of unfamiliar material that caught my attention. I walked away with a new appreciation for Saturdays=Youth and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, as well as an intense and perhaps financially dangerous curiosity about M83’s back catalog. The next day, I took a stack of unwanted CDs to Waterloo and traded them in for Before the Dawn Heals Us. This has turned out to be a good move, because it sows seeds that come to fruition in M83’s current work.

I'd like to elaborate on some of my previous observations about the ways that disparate influences uniquely converge in M83's music.  Especially after getting to know Before the Dawn Heals Us, I think that Jean-Michel Jarre's ubiquitous influence on French synthesizer music is a factor. Despite his sometimes melodramatic stage presence, he did have a unique gift for thematic, ethereal composition that harnessed the limits of 70s synthesizer technology. He had his moments of intensity, but Jarre’s style was mostly ambient, which, at the time, defied categorization.

When you turn the volume up on ethereal, however, it evolves into the cosmic, which aptly describes the splendor of Before the Dawn Heals Us.  I think that My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, an album that just recently clicked for me, is the inspiration for this radiating intensity.  Before the Dawn Heals Us is a similarly beautiful work of sonic sculpture, but, in addition to its predecessor’s use of detuned and distorted guitars, it’s also carved from massive walls of organ and synths.

Before the Dawn Heals Us isn't really music to dance to, and it’s not music to sing along with, but it is music to take refuge in. This “synth-gaze” approach heads straight for that liminal space between the real and the imagined, where the listener can be empowered by a romanticized notion of the world, and also be justifiably disappointed and perhaps angry when the world doesn’t fit that ideal. This dissonance makes Before the Dawn Heals Us seem intensely personal, allowing it to translate particularly well to the inherently sullen isolation of IPod culture.

In retrospect, I’m sure fans of Before the Dawn Heals Us had difficulty accepting Saturdays=Youth. It is overall less concerned with songwriting and 80s nostalgia than its immediate successor. Its immense grandeur, however, lays the groundwork for Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, and in some ways it might even be more successful as a unified listening experience. It certainly provides perspective on a larger arc in M83’s creative path. Coupled with the concert, Before the Dawn Heals Us has clinched the deal on one issue - M83’s creativity and vision has moved them up in ranks amongst my all-time favorite groups, which, at this stage in the game, is a difficult echelon to break into.

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