The sixth studio release from electro-pop favorite M83 has some critics calling it M83’s best work yet and some saying it’s too lengthy and unfocused. But, for an album titled Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, it seems that whatever sort of disorientation it may contain was intentional. Dreaming isn’t linear; there isn’t always a clear story, but there’s usually some kind of general concept. And Anthony Gonzalez, the man behind M83, has an obvious concept: a larger, grander gesture of his artfully crafted, heavily nostalgic ambiance, admittedly drawing inspiration from other large-scale releases, like Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma to Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. Gonzalez said he was striving for something “very, very, very epic,” and it’s easy to see how he succeeded. From crescendo to crescendo throughout the two parts of Dreaming, Gonzalez constantly turns up the volume from the simpler sound of Saturdays = Youth (Mute), keeping the retro ’80s vibe going strong but trying to pack a little more oomph into his synth-pop than on previous efforts.
Starting with the “Intro,” a steady synth melody plays off of Gonzalez’s escalating vocals, countered by equally passionate vocals from Nika Roza Danilova (aka Zola Jesus), and as the voices slowly merge into fervent cries, they are backed by smashing cymbals and rolling drums, shimmering synths and delicate choral harmonies. The blaring, catchy synth melody on loop throughout “Midnight City” is greeted by an inviting drum beat heavy on the bass drum, Gonzalez’s outcry that “the city is my church” and a smooth-as-butter saxophone solo that adds to the ’80s vibe without being forced. Relying more on simple, faint guitar lines, echoing percussion and warm, sentimental strings, “Wait” highlights the range of Gonzalez’s voice as he softly sings “Send your dreams/Where nobody hides/Give your tears/To the tide” and bellows the next line “Of time” on the
romantically charged track. “Claudia Lewis” is an anthem full of surging synths, more soaring vocals from Gonzalez, whistling and a hearty dose of funky slap bass—slightly reminiscent of Phil Collins if his music had been amplified by the towering synths of Dreaming.
On part B, “New Map” continues the upbeat nature of the release with more echoing vocals that bounce off of reverberating guitars and circular synth loops, with the last minute or so of the track becoming a medley of drums, playful flute and more smooth sax. It’s tracks like “New Map” that give Dreaming its youthful, happy sound that carries all of the curiosity and imagination of a little kid on an adventure, living up to the image of the costumed children on the album cover. In the same vein, “OK Pal” also has an imaginative feel, with synths that sound (in an awesome way) like the music from a Super Nintendo game. The track furthers the heavy retro new wave vibe without sounding too similar to the tracks from part A. Heavy-hearted piano chords lead into a chorus of oohs on “Splendor,” which could easily accompany Arcade Fire on the Where The Wild Things Are soundtrack. The four-minute “Outro” is a steady wave of string-like synths that rest for 30 seconds or so, only to build back up into Gonzalez’s sweet vocals and blazing synths and end on a graceful piano melody.
The instrumental interludes have received some flack, occasionally being denounced as unnecessary fillers by a few reviewers, but they work in the context of the album’s entirety. It isn’t meant to be a pick and choose kind of album; like waking up from an amazing dream, you can’t just jump right back in. Each interlude adds mood between songs, serving to break up the many crescendo-laden tracks between parts A and B and adding to Dreaming‘s collective flow. Though taken individually some tracks may have a strikingly similar feel with a lot of big, synthy crescendos, it’s the cohesion of the release that makes it work in the “epic” way that Gonzalez envisioned it.