Switched on – M83: DSVII (2019)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Twelve years on from Digital Shades Vol.1, M83 – aka Anthony Gonzalez – revisits his instrumental project. This time, ironically, he chose to use solely analogue equipment in the creation of the sequel, which goes beyond his love of ambient music and shoegaze.

What’s the music like?

While the first Digital Shades volume took its time and created vistas from scratch, DSVII is a much busier affair, reflecting the video games soundtracks of the 1980s that inspired it. Gonzalez freely admits to his wish to recreate the analogue sound of that time, and in doing so emulate or rival the electronic pioneers making music then.

The drone with which Hell Riders begins is a throwback to the first release, but soon enough an attractive set of guitar loops blossoms into what feels like a full-blown set of end credits for a TV series melodic layers piling up on each other.

This is the true sound of DSVII, which leans in towards progressive rock and those synthesizer works from the likes of John Carpenter and Jean Michel Jarre. Gonzalez takes melodic cells and moves them around like the images on the games. It is entertaining and eventful, but sometimes too busy to class as relaxing. It is ultimately background music in this setting, and tracks like Meet The Friends, while attractive, feel like they are playing second fiddle to the images in Gonzalez’s mind. Likewise A Taste Of The Dusk, with more closing credits music, and the sweet flute that fronts Lunar Son. Oh Yes You’re There, Everyday is a good example of the meandering tunes and harmonies we have here, relaxing yet curiously restless

There are some nice diversions though. Goodbye Captain Lee has a sweet air of melancholia, and Colonies is atmospheric, while Mirage effortlessly paints a hazy vista. The piano-led Jeux d’enfants invites comparison with Ravel and Satie, partly because of its name, and is attractive if not as substantial as their writing.

Arguably the best is saved until last, and Temple Of Sorrow, a substantial track that builds through a rush of drums and wordless vocals, cutting out to a soft, bell-like piano. Here you feel is the real heart of how Gonzalez naturally writes music.

Does it all work?

Not all of it. Those who know M83’s music for its power and skyscraper-like builds (Midnight City and We Own The Sky come to mind) might be surprised at the relatively frivolous side shown here – which could of course be seen as an asset too, revealing an artist of several different musical personalities and attributes. Whether you respond to this positively will depend on whether you can take on an hour of instrumental music rooted heavily in the 1980s. If you’re in the wrong mood it might feel like music to eat a meal to rather than immerse yourself in.

Is it recommended?

Yes, ultimately. M83 fans need not hesitate – nor those lovers of 1980s’ instrumental electronica. Those wanting the power of previous albums might want to try before they buy.


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