For the last several years of Anthony Gonzalez’s career, he seemed to have been spending his time paying homage to his musical upbringing.
Gonzalez, the French vocalist, producer, multi-instrumentalist and sole founder of the band M83, has spent his nearly 20-year career collecting sounds and musical ideas from anywhere and everywhere. Any one of M83’s nine studio albums is strikingly different from the rest of the batch.
The band received the most publicity and success with the 2011 album “Hurry Up We’re Dreaming,” and most notably, the single “Midnight City,” whose chorus has spawned almost too many memes. Gonzalez noted in a 2014 Pitchfork Article that his music could best be described as “adult-scripted teen dreams like the movies of John Hughes and Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.’”
Gonzalez’s last album (excluding the soundtrack to the 2019 film “Knife + Heart,” which he composed), the 1980s throwback power-pop album “Junk,” showed off his more playful side and his determination to redefine the sound of the second British invasion for the 21st century. Arguably, the best part about the album was the position 1980s guitar pioneer Steve Vai took behind the shred-machine (that’s what you call a guitar when Vai is in the vicinity) on the track “Go!”
Gonzalez takes reverence in M83’s discography as a holistic concept, and this is more than clear with the band’s most recent release, “DSVII,” the next in the series started by the 2007 ambient instrumental record “Digital Shades Vol 1.” Released Sept. 20, “DSVII” seems like an anomaly considering the amount of time it took for Gonzalez to drop another record in the series. What’s not surprising is how little people have cared about “Vol 1” since its release and how little demand for a sequel there has been up to this point. However, every 10-or-so years, the man behind the band probably just needs to meditate for a while — which is precisely what he accomplished on “DSVII.”
Even though Gonzalez usually focuses his energy on creating restless pop hooks, ambient synthesizers have always been a commonality across his past works, so it’s not too far of a stretch for him to oscillate his way completely into the clouds. Per his aforementioned diversity in style, the sonic clouds on this album consist of an impressively wide range of enveloped, phased and delayed analog hums.
M83’s signature pop melodies aren’t completely absent, however. If Gonzalez sees the need for a musical concept that goes beyond the ambiance, it’s usually done with careful intention. The second track from the album, “A Bit of Sweetness,” used nearly every instrument in the mix to project a memorable and heartfelt swing of melody. Flamenco guitar, airy vocals and sawtooth synthesizer amongst others took turns in the spotlight, providing sappy and sleepy hooks.
As a counterbalance to the hymn-like atmosphere of the rest of the album, some tracks bring the power. “Feelings” starts with an arpeggiated rattling of ascending and descending synth plucks, with massive drum hits towering over the rest of the mix. The apocalyptic dreaminess of the track could easily fit in alongside the other pieces from the soundtrack of the Netflix show “Stranger Things.”
With as little variation as there is between the tracks, each cut manages to bring something else to the table. “Jeux d’enfants” is a space-age lullaby while the closer, “Temple of Sorrow,” is almost shamanistic, as the ritualistic drums and woodwind-imitating synthesizers lead the listener across a vast plain of prairie grass.
Gonzalez’s meditation seems to be taking him to truly serene places, as “DSVII” is a mature version of “lo-fi hip hop beats to study to” that would leave any electronica connoisseur satisfied.