M83 rose to widespread prominence with the release of his sixth studio album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, which spawned the successful single “Midnight City,” a song that arguably represents the peak of the synthwave genre. Unfortunately, it’s been downhill ever since for Anthony Gonzalez, the man behind the M83 moniker. After the lukewarm reception received by his last studio album Junk, the decision to follow it up with DSVII, a collection of instrumentals, is probably not a smart commercial decision. However, if he intends to rehabilitate his image among critics and fans, it makes a lot of sense; an instrumental album is relatively pressure-free.
DSVII is not the electropop M83 is known for — it is an instrumental progressive electronic album that, at times, borders on ambient. It sounds like the soundtrack to a video game from your youth that you rediscover years later. You start to play it out of a sense of nostalgic obligation, only to realize that it really hasn’t aged all that well. Let there be no mistake: DSVII is far from unpleasant, just hollow. The ambient wistfulness it intends to evoke falls flat.
The tracks range from pleasant, yet largely uneventful, to interminable. There are a few songs worth mentioning — the project reaches its zenith with “Feelings,” a dynamic and creative piece that avoids many of the self-indulgent pitfalls the tracks surrounding it succumb to. “A Word Of Wisdom,” while a decent enough composition, sounds out of place on the project. It sounds less like a retro soundscape and more like the closing credit music to an educational children’s show that is about to be cancelled. “Jeux d’enfants” is a pretty piano piece, notable in its restraint and taste compared to many of the sprawling yet inconsequential tracks that surround it. “Oh Yes You’re There, Everyday” is the weakest piece on the album, spending far too long on an idea with far too little substance. “Temple of Sorrow” is an excellent closer, and one of the stronger efforts M83 has made since Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Despite some good selections, the vast majority of the songs on DSVII commit the cardinal sin of art: being utterly forgettable.
Nostalgia is difficult to get right — for most, it becomes a crutch, a cheap trick through which one can evoke emotions without actually saying anything. By its nature, it is a dependent tool: Without the preformed emotional connections to whatever is being used as the object of nostalgia (in this case, cheap 80s synths), the expression becomes meaningless. While it can be a useful artistic ornament, triggering a sense of recognition by appealing to some aspect of collective memory, it cannot adequately substitute for creativity or interest. Unfortunately, M83 has for the better part of their career leaned on the nostalgia evoked by cheesy synths as a crutch (especially on their most recent project Junk). DSVII is no different.
If you want decent ’80s-tinged background music, or if you have a specific taste for video game soundtracks, then listen to DSVII. If not, you won’t lose much by skipping this one.