With this reissue of M83’s self-titled debut, avid fans of the French act’s subsequent releases will find a slightly different incarnation of their dreamlike shoegazer/electronic/space-rock. Missing are the brutish, instantly fetching swaths of guitar-led aural theater found on last year’s Before the Dawn Heals Us, as are the dense, heaven-sent passages of 2003’s masterpiece Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts.
What we’re dealt with instead is a duo that’s discovering its sound, tinkering with 808 patterns, toggling the pitch-bend on their synths to give us cooing Air-y melodies and eschewing real vocals for a horde of sampled dialogue. In essence, M83’s cinematic, hypnotic soundscapes that have caused a stir among the indie scene in the last couple of years are supplanted by a primitive take on textural electronica.
The great moments on this release are few and far between, but tracks like “Kelly” draw you in with undulating dub rhythms, vocoded soundbites and keyboards that emulate weeping e-bows. “Violet Tree” twinkles in a sea of nighttime Casio tones, backed by stuttering beats that find kinship with Warp acts like Plaid. M83 even manages a few nods to the dancefloor on ironically-named electro cuts “Sitting” and “Slowly.”
But instead of the incomparable cohesiveness and dramatic flourishes that would dictate their later records, M83’s first outing is a loose, unfocused experiment that will frustrate listeners, but nonetheless hints at the greatness to come. Even though the duo is now cut in half to just Anthony Gonzalez (cohort Nicolas Fromageau split after Dead Cities), M83’s sound today is fully formulated and potent. This debut, on the other hand, is led by baby steps on eggshells.