There is one over-arching question at the core of any examination of M83's fifth proper studio album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming: What artist in their right mind would write, record, and release a double LP in 2011? The answer to this question is also the single most important reason why French mastermind Anthony Gonzalez's 22-song epic (yes, the E word is applicable here) is a contemporary feat of musical craft: He's a uniquely inspired and wildly talented artist with absolutely no stock in the way music is currently perceived, who is driven, above all things, by pure, childlike emotion.
The records in M83's discography have always been widescreen cinematic experiences, and Gonzalez retains his tenderly commanding grip on that skill throughout his latest effort. But if Before the Dawn Heals Us and Saturdays = Youth were beautifully crafted indie flicks (making Dead Cities, Red Seas, and Lost Ghosts a lovely student film), Hurry Up is a blockbuster masterpiece, the uncompromised vision of a master artisan. Gonzalez has described this album as a "tribute to his childhood" and a "retrospective of himself," facts that are made readily apparent in the numerous stylistic cues it takes from '80s pop—which are preciously utilized without the slightest tinge of irony—and its overwhelming sense of wide-eyed wonder. Yet there is something else, something intangible and almost indescribable that makes this dizzying musical sprawl the tour de force that it is. Hurry Up, despite its deep nostalgia and modern production quality, just might be a truly timeless album.
Hurry Up's trajectory is a complete rollercoaster ride, one fraught with the highs of both driving anthems and neon pop hits and the lows of somber balladry and choral hymns, not to mention a few inexplicable interludes that provide some much needed breathing room between each rise and fall. The swelling "Intro" guides us into M83's first disc with starry synth arpeggiations and the inimitable voice of Zola Jesus, who acts as a sort of greeter at the gates of Hurry Up. She's joined by the star of these 22 tracks: Gonzalez's newfound singing voice, a yelping and plaintive quasi-falsetto that sounds far more alien than not.
Across songs like the standout lead single "Midnight City" (an easy contender for best track of 2011, if only for its triumphant sax solo), the revelatory "Reunion," and the Peter Gabriel-inspired "Claudia Lewis," Gonzalez delivers his unique vocal sounds like an interstellar traveller who has never known the concept of subtlety. It's arresting, to say the least. The artist's more restrained croon is still used to great effect throughout both discs (see the stratospheric "Steve McQueen" and playfully funky "OK Pal"), but its his new voice that ultimately steals the show and elevates the repertoire of M83 to uncharted levels.
The slower and more emotive moments on M83's double LP are just as important as its upbeat counterparts, if not occasionally more so. "Splendor," possibly the most transcendent of Hurry Up's songs, is an impeccably orchestrated composition of piano, acoustic guitar, synths, and choir vocals that boasts a beautifully twisting melody at its core. The album centerpieces, "Soon, My Friend" and "My Tears are Becoming a Sea," are gorgeous, slowly building mini-epics that piece together the two parts of Gonzalez's saga with heavenly horns, soaring string sections, hosts of angelic voices, majestic melodies, and lyrical promises from the lead singer ("I'll be yours someday" and "I'm on my way"). You get the sense that you're not just leaving this world, but that you're already halfway to another galaxy.
And that is M83's greatest accomplishment: With this album, he has crafted a singular musical realm that could exist only within himself and presented that world in vibrant, painstaking detail. Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is indeed a dream, so much so that you can only sit back and allow its absurd, otherworldly beauty to unfold before you. It's a fantastical story of aliens, spirits, and children told by one breathtakingly gifted artist, and it's utterly remarkable.
Listen to Hurry Up, We're Dreaminghere.