M83’s seventh studio album Junk is full of surprises and oddities, which add character and point towards the band’s earnest exploration of genre and pastiche. This, however, does not necessarily prove to be a successful formula for a good album. Junk certainly takes us on a musical journey back through time, but ultimately fails to bring it back to the present in a relevant and musically exciting way.

‘Junk’ by M83 Album Review

The concept behind the album, as the title obtrusively suggests, is to take the cheesy “junk” of the past (think flashy 70s and 80s disco tunes and TV show theme songs) and transform it into something worthwhile to the modern listener. But to what extent M83 frontman Anthony Gonzalez has succeeded in his project is questionable. The album undoubtedly aims at a bigger pop appeal by mimicking fairly familiar tunes and musical feats of the past: disco beats, robotic vocals, dance piano riffs alla early Elton John, crazy synths. The overload feels intentional and taken almost to an extreme on tracks like opener “Do It, Try It” and “Go!”

The wildness with which the album greets us gives in to a more subdued sound in the middle of the album, perhaps showing a more carefully considered production, while keeping in mind the overall retro-minded project of the record. “For the Kids,” featuring vocals by Susanne Sunfør, strikes with its balladic simplicity and the gentle blend of voice, piano and saxophone.

Midway through the album “Solitude” stands as a reminder of a former M83, or it is at the very least closest to what listeners might have expected from them. With emotional reverberating strings and distorted vocals, it is a track that best reveals the orchestral sound that M83 are famous for. Yet, it is only a brief interlude on a record aimed at showcasing a great variety of oddities.

Ultimately, the potential for a lot more is present on Junk, including an easily overlooked appearance by Beck on “Time Wind,” but it seems stifled by a preoccupation with reviving what has remained in the past. Junk may not quite fit the expectations of listeners who are only familiar with the more commercial work by the indie band, namely titles like “Wait” and “Midnight City” off of their 2011 album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. While intricate and ambitious, it tends to leave the listener wanting, craving the spectral, cinematic and gently uplifting quality of M83’s earlier music.

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