Crate-Digging Archive: M83 – Before the Dawn Heals Us

I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.

Previously published in mid-2009. Presented here with some revision.

(Mute, 2005)

Have you heard Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts? If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? I have a deep love affair going on with M83’s sophomore release, the one that put them on the map. How is it that two French guys could make such emotionally touching music from synthesizers and drum machines, all while utilizing a similar pattern that My Bloody Valentine perfected on Loveless? (Yes, yes, it’s lazy to call Dead Cities a My Bloody Valentine knockoff with synths. I know that’s overly simplistic. What are you going to do, sue me? I’m trying to get you to listen to it here.) Deep magic works through the album. It is a timeless statement – it will outlast many records. It will imprint itself upon your heart.

Before the Dawn Heals Us, the band’s follow-up to Dead Cities, was a highly anticipated release among the indie cognoscenti when it came out back in 2005. It kind of freaked us all out back then. Dead Cities was so good that it wasn’t quite clear where Dawn would pick up. First of all, Nicholas Fromgeau left the band, leaving only the Anthony Gonzalez half to direct the album. Question: Was it Fromgeau or Gonzalez who steered the ship? I was nervous to see how this would turn out.

Early results were inconclusive – uh oh, vocals in the mix! If you’ve read anything here within the hallowed walls of Crate-Digging, you know how I feel about vocals – a crummy one can tank an otherwise excellent song, no matter how well the music was written and played. Some people copped to digging the addition, and others lamented the band’s new direction. But lo and behold, Gonzalez was a capable singer, and he actually added to what ended up being a love letter to nocturnal urban reverie, a grand sprawl of city life in electric light. He also turned out to be the brains behind the outfit, as the departure from the Dead Cities sound wasn’t too great. Synthesizers still rule the songs, but there is quite a bit of guitar adornment, and the rhythms are restless instead of meditative.

Although the pastoral beauty of earlier M83 transitioned here into flashier Eurocentric urban emotional connectivity, it’s still a helluva ride. Which may be part of the reason it surprised fans – there was a ride to actually jump on, rather than a gauzy tank in which to engulf yourself. And that’s just fine by me – in fact, the ebb and flow of the “rock”-ier and more energetic tunes into and out of more contemplative ambient passages works even better than it did in Dead Cities. Before the Dawn Heals Us really gives a complete sense of city living, from the energetic and exciting highs of “Don’t Save Us from the Flames” and “Teen Angst” to the stumbling and rain-soaked treks home of “Moon Child,” I Guess I’m Floating,” and “Can’t Stop.” The album really holds a great appeal for a wide cross-section of music fans.

In the end, Before the Dawn Heals Us is truly cinematic in scope, as you can dream of the promise of bigger and better things that the city has to offer. And you can do it on a wide scale, as montages for imaginary films about your life will inevitably flit through your head while listening to this record. Who hasn’t set out on a devil-may-care path to happiness only to have it unravel into emotional distress? We can all relate. And then the next night, when you get a chance to repair any damage and try again, ultimately triumphing over the results of the previous evening, whatever those failures may be, you can look back on the hurt as a stepping stone to a better place. Learn more about yourself while listening to M83. Explore the depths of your heart. Stay out until the sun comes up. Discover love and be reckless with it.

RIYL: My Bloody Valentine, Blonde Redhead’s 23, Asobi Seksu

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