Following his breakthrough sixth album, 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, which reached No. 15 on the Billboard 200 chart and briefly made him a household name, M83’s Anthony Gonzalez could have made the safe move and created a similarly epic-sounding synth and guitar dreamscape.
Or, he could have reverted to his shoegazing past, which first brought him to the national consciousness with the previous album, 2008’s Saturdays = Youth. Instead, he made a wholly sideways move into campy early ‘80s bubblegum pop with this month’s release, Junk, which bears little resemblance with any of Gonzalez’s previous work.
Gonzalez warned everyone about the gamble several months back when he said the album was inspired by television shows from 40 years ago, like Punky Brewsterand Who’s The Boss. “I want to show different sides of me on this album,” he said in a previous news release. “I want to come back with something more intimate, yet somehow with . . . less me.” Those who had fallen in love with his previous work were left scratching their heads over cheesy-sounding songs like “Do It, Try It,” “Moon Crystal,” “For The Kids” — and, really, the majority of the 15 songs belong in this category. Yet, based on his earlier description of the inspiration, he accomplished the mission.
Sunday, the questions at the top of most peoples’ minds at the Fox Theater in Oakland were whether the new songs would fit in among M83’s previous material or continue to stand out, and if it would matter. The answers: The new songs were clearly delineated from the others, and no, not really, but with an asterisk.
Gonzalez and his band, whose contributions were greater than in years past, played only five Junk songs, sprinkling them in here and there among more popular material from the previous two albums, and reaching back to his 2005 album, Before The Dawn Heals Us.
The new songs, which on record have a two-dimensional quality, were made richer with live arrangements. There was a more prominent role for the saxophonist, and new keyboard player Kaela Sinclair filled in admirably, when called upon, for Morgan Kibby, who departed to pursue a solo career. As did Mai Lan, who sang on a couple of songs, including a moving “Go!” That song, performed live, may sway some of the naysayers of the new album.
Gonzalez not only ceded her the microphone, but left the stage entirely during the performance. Mai Lan and Sinclair handled singing duties on “Laser Gun,” proving for a second time that this band’s dynamic shifts completely without Gonzales or his brother, bassist-guitarist Yann Gonzalez, doing the singing.
M83 made only one noticeable misstep, with “Walkaway Blues,” another new song, which was performed in the encore. Starting as an easy listening jam and ending with Gonzalez writhing on his back while playing guitar, it stood out the most. Even then, lasers, strobes, and other shiny stage props provided distractions during this time.
Do It, Try It
We Own the Sky
Echoes of Mine
Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun