As both a musician and visual artist, M83 frontman Anthony Gonzalez makes his music sound as though it could be a movie or TV soundtrack. On 2011’s acclaimed double-album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, Gonzalez demonstrated his love of Terrence Malik and Werner Herzog films by employing epic, stadium-ready jams to create the sensation of child-like wonder and innocence. His band’s latest record, Junk, draws inspiration from 1980s sitcoms, particularly “Punky Brewster” and “Who’s the Boss.” And judging from Junk’s whacky album cover, Gonzalez shows that he isn’t afraid to move M83 into a new direction.
Though slightly uneven in its execution, Junk is M83’s weirdest, most ambitious and most experimental work to date. Similar to how Daft Punk revitalized ’70s culture on their Grammy-winning comeback record Random Access Memories, Gonzalez cherishes the soul and spirit of the ’80s on Junk, transforming old-fashioned rhythms into modern pop songs. While appreciating a simpler time on American television, Junk also focuses on darker themes of existentialism and mortality. As Gonzalez stated in a press release, the album is about how everything we create will become “space junk,” a concept Gonzalez describes as both scary and fascinating. Junk certainly has a mystical, philosophical quality to it, which only adds onto the album’s daring scope.
Sonically, Junk doesn’t stray too far from M83’s grandiose electronic sound. There are still flourishes of saxophone solos, dizzying synthesizers and electric guitar breakdowns, but M83 goes a step further by utilizing New Wave and dance-pop influences. Though there may not be a song on Junk as massive as M83’s excellent “Midnight City,” there are several that come close. On the shimmering opener “Do It, Try It,” Gonzalez longs for love and connection over a glittery, video-game beat reminiscent of the 1982 sci-fi flick “Tron.” “Go!,” the catchiest track off Junk, is bolstered by Mai Lan’s breathy voice and renowned musician Steve Vai’s monumental guitar solo. The album’s longest song, “Solitude,” is a chilling meditation on the past backed by an orchestral instrumental. Beck provides a much needed assistance on the spacey “Time Wind,” a whirlwind of electric rock in the vein of Tears for Fears. The post-disco jingles “Walkway Blues” and “Bibi the Dog” each showcase Gonzalez’s range, the former throbbing with an atmospheric intensity and the latter operating as a fun, loose groove.
Junk succeeds in capturing the ethos of ’80s music, television and film, but it also delves into the sentimental and corny aspects of the three mediums with mixed results. The funky, string-heavy “Moon Crystal,” for example, is both captivating and confounding, especially since it sounds exactly like a mix between elevator muzak and a generic ’80s sitcom theme song. “For the Kids” is a dreary, mawkish slow jam that is fortunately enhanced by the beautiful vocals of Norwegian guest Susanne Sundfør. Similarly, “Atlantique Sud” suffers from an element of unflattering schmaltz, but Gonzalez and Lan’s mesmerizing French duet saves it from becoming too cloying. The two-minute interlude “Tension” also starts out with a syrupy guitar reverb, until Gonzalez lays down some tantalizing synths and transforms it into something awe-inspiring.
Even with its overly romantic tendencies toward the past, Junk remains a grounded portrait of the importance and magic of art and its ability to last throughout generations. It’s definitely not M83’s most accomplished record, as it meanders between the profound and the sappy. But despite Junk’s imperfections, Gonzalez’s extraordinary vision shines through in the end.