Album Review: M83 - DSVII

Album Review: M83 - DSVII
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Like many of us, M83's Anthony Gonzalez grew up amidst childhood heroes on sci-fi screens, dreaming of far-away worlds and fantastical characters. This childish sentiment of escaping to a strange reality, while silenced during our adult years, can sometimes make a surprise appearance when we most need it. And Gonzalez suddenly found himself needing it. 

Since the release of his last studio album, Junk in 2016, Gonzalez has been kept busy with soundtrack work- creating music for Cirque du Soleil's "Volta" show, as well as composing for his brother's film "Knife+Heart". After taking a much needed break, Gonzalez started gravitating toward his childhood memories. "At first there was this vivid memory of Dungeons and Dragons, this childhood sensation of living in an imaginary world set in a faraway past or a lost future," he shares. "I wanted to create some music that could be part of this adventure and journey with all of its solitary knights, dreamy landscapes , strange animals, forgotten myths and old spells." Enter the completion of the decade-old Digital Shades collection, DSVII

While the first Digital Shades was released as a collection of B-sides and unused tracks, DSVII feels more cohesive and put together. Opening up with "Hell Riders", Gonzalez slowly sweeps us off to a fantasy world filled with gently plucked guitar melodies, a celestial singing choir, and dramatic 80's-inspired synths. The scenery is set, the world come to life, and all that's left to do is draw the characters. In "Meet the Friends", Gonzalez manages to invoke visions of wood creatures and fairytale animals through sounds alone. A lamenting synth melody supplemented by patient piano keys and a lonely guitar makes you forget that you are listening to an M83 album entirely. A fact that was not lost on Gonzalez: "With 'DSVII', I wanted to come back with something stronger that featured the depth of a proper studio album without the pressure of providing pop music – faraway from 'Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming' and 'Junk'."

Just like any good story, the album meanders through moments of drama, sorrow, and inspired resilience. "Lune De Fiel" feels like an epic hero's montage at they moment that they rise up, determined to pursue and finish their journey once and for all. Marked by not only sci-fi and fantasy, "Lune De Fiel" blatantly embraces another of Gonzalez' obsessions- vintage video games. The synths are erratic and climactic, the drum kicks smooth, and the memories overpowering. And just as we reach the climax with this track, it is immediately followed by softly whimsical instrumental pieces such as "Jeux D'Enfants" and "Lunar Son", bringing us back down to a serene state of mind for the latter half of the album. 

Always keeping us on our toes (as any fantasy should), DSVII, though musically departed from his earlier works, does remind me a lot of Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. It was almost impossible to listen to HUWD as standalone tracks. When listened to in full, the entire storyline of the album burst into life, closing the aching circle of brilliant emotions. Similarly, DSVII is meant to be listened to as one piece, rather than dissected into its smaller, equal parts. As you move along the album, it becomes clear that the characters are the listeners. It is up to us to decide the story that we wish to tell. Gonzalez is simply there to guide us along. And in "Temple of Sorrow", the closing track, Gonzalez spectacularly and ever so calmly brings us back home. 

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