M83 has been coasting on spangled euphoria for far longer than one might have expected, and it was probably only a matter of time before that default excitability found an outlet in trash-fond childhood nostalgia. A band that made its name culling the most sensationalistic elements of Air and Angelo Badalamenti now proudly regresses to the point that Miller-Boyett Productions is their new album’s primary touchstone. With a cover that evokes both McDonaldland’s Fry Guys and the opening credits from Punky Brewster, M83’s Junk dares you to take it seriously—and then naturally smuggles in a hefty dose of synthesized bombast between varied tracks inspired by Jesse Frederick. Whether listeners will ride with these juxtapositions, which seem intended to elevate the titular trash to the band’s notion of high art and not the other way around, may depend entirely on whether or not the phrases “Not the mama!” or “Of course not, don’t be re-dickle-ous!” sporadically surface from your subconscious when you least expect them.
As it turns out, the proudly fatuous Junk arrives just as children of the ’80s and ’90s are having a collective come-to-Uncle-Jesse moment with the release of the Netflix reboot Fuller House, a welcome wrench thrown into the gears of our current golden age of television. Abysmal on virtually every level, Fuller House operates within a world where sentimentality, dad humor, and the robotic comforts of an eager laugh track take an active stand against ambition, character, and craft.
Similarly, the meat forming Junk’s cheeseburger patty is arch deluxe. Anthony Gonzalez and company have always been exclusively comfortable with broadly drawn emotions, so delving into the deep end of artistic fraudulence plays out like the next logical step in their progression. It’s hardly a surprise that the 11th-hour epic “Time Wind” boasts a cameo by Beck, the patron saint of recycled detritus.
And yet, there’s something to be said for sheer, unapologetic comfort. On a base, per-song level, Junk is a sturdy little workhorse of an album. The gawky honky-tonk piano fills and popping bass licks that open “Do It Try It” flower into a surprisingly on-brand chorus, rich in the band’s emblematic reverb. Instrumentals like “Moon Crystal” are sonically pitched somewhere between Madlib’s Saturday-morning crate-digging and the endlessly lopping refrain from Adult Swim’s “Too Many Cooks.” The moonlighting ballad “For the Kids” pits trending Norwegian songstress Susanne Sundfør against a Clarence Clemons-worthy saxophone line. “Tension” sort of reimagines what that scene in the museum from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off would have been like if, instead of covering the Smiths, the Dream Academy psychically pre-covered Def Leppard’s “Hysteria.”
As though the rest of the album wasn’t already on the nose enough, Junk closes out with a harmonica-laced footnote of a finale, “Sunday Night 1987.” Even DJ, Stephanie, and the rest of the Tanner clan might question Gonzalez’s level of taste during moments like this, but no one can doubt his commitment to the trashiness of Reagan-era emotion.