Reviews of electronic albums like M83’s Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts are tricky things: They’re fairly easy to write—just sit down and describe the images that the music conjures in your head and compose big, long, elaborate sentences with lots of words like “atmospheric” and “lush” (i.e. “The album begins with the lush, atmospheric sounds of birds chirping and a radio dial flipping through static as if caught in between the strata of a synthetic planet’s outer rings”)—and they’re usually very annoying at that. No amount of rhetorical critic-speak can give justice to a good or bad album; it needs to be experienced. I could say that M83, comprised of Nicolas Fromageau and Anthony Gonzalez, wield electronic keyboards like electric guitars, but you’d have to hear it to completely understand. I could say M83 are one part Jean Michel Jarre and one part My Bloody Valentine; or I could say they’re one part Joy Division and one part New Order. Either one works. I could say Dead Cities is strictly “head music”—it doesn’t summon you to get up and dance yet the idea of listening to it with headphones is almost exhausting, not because of what you might hear (the possibilities are endless), but because you might hear too much. M83 are like a much less fun Art of Noise, alternating between bursts of sound and silence on “America” until the bottom drops out and seamlessly gives way to the babbling brooks and synth-strings of “On A White Lake, Near a Green Mountain,” which itself builds to a deafening crescendo. The impenetrable, over-quantized walls of noise are so headache-inducing that by the time you reach track ten, “0078h,” you’re practically starving for real guitars. (With its measured, delay-heavy beats and synth-drone complemented by live drums and guitar, the live version of “Gone”—featured on the second disc of the U.S. edition of the album, which also includes the epic title track—is far superior to the brittle studio version.) Dead Cities is like the electronic music equivalent of listening to someone who talks just to hear their own voice: The melodies and harmonic dissonances hidden beneath the dense layers of white noise are interesting, even beautiful, but you get the sense that they’re accidental. Fromageau and Gonzalez pound out their keyboard arpeggios with fierce abandon but the impact of the minimal, repetitive vocals (scattered across only a few of the album’s 12 tracks) are negligible—they serve only to lend the otherwise sterile proceedings an illusion of humanness. In the end, it doesn’t matter what I think, though; either you already have your own opinion about the album or you’ll have to go out and buy it.
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