The mixed bag of M83’s “DSVII”

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Evelyn Thoen

”DSVII” is a sequel to 2007’s “Digital Shades Vol. I.”

Luke Spicer, Staff Writer

M83’s newest album, “DSVII,” which was released this past Friday, is a series of musical vignettes of varying quality. While there are some standout tracks that beautifully layer nostalgic ’80s-style synths with gorgeous vocal humming (“Temple of Sorrow” and “Hell Riders”), the majority of tracks within the album feel uninspired and half-finished.

Although it is M83’s eighth studio album, “DSVII” itself is the followup to their 2007 debut “Digital Shades Vol. I,” and should be listened to with that proper context in mind. Both of the Digital Shades albums stem from Anthony Gonzalez’s nostalgic musings on his childhood during the 1980s, a decade full of pop culture that featured a cyber-centric vision of the future, with movies like “The Terminator” and “Blade Runner,” and 8-bit video games like “Super Mario Bros.” and “The Legend of Zelda.”  In many ways, “DSVII” feels like the score of an ’80s film or video game that was never made, albeit an uninspired one. There are no central themes within the album that make their way from song to song, with the work as a whole sounding much more like a collection of singles than a cohesive LP.

When compared to M83’s epic orchestral and synthetic operas “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” and “Saturdays = Youth,” “DSVII” is a regression away from those anthemic albums towards a simpler period of the band’s past. However, both of those albums represented and marked a significant step forward in the musical ability of Gonzalez, and as such, this current regression lacks any of the compelling emotion that made “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” and “Saturdays = Youth” such memorable and excellent albums.

At its best, “DSVII” is suitable background music. That may seem like a harsh criticism, but given the nature of the album and its inspirations from 1980s film and video game soundtracks, perhaps this is exactly what the album was intended for. However, even given this proper context, there are plenty of albums that did this background music idea far better: Pink Floyd’s “Atom Heart Mother” or the Moody Blues’ “Days of Future Passed,” to name a few.

This is a shame given the clear musical ability present, with beautiful piano melodies that are present on tracks “A Word of Wisdom,” “Jeux D’Enfants,” and “Taifun Glory.” But none of these musical ideas are developed into anything more than short pieces of what could have been so much more, if Gonzalez had utilized some vocal tracks and more drum beats to give variety to the synth-dominated album.

“DSVII” is beautiful music that fundamentally lacks a sense of emotion with greater significance that M83’s albums in the past have done such an amazing job of creating. It is a regression towards simpler times in Anthony Gonzalez’s musical career, but through its return the album loses the ability to convey a sense of heart and soul that marked the mid-point of M83’s discography. It is plagued with tracks that seem distant from each other and feel unfinished as a result, which is a shame because Gonzalez’s masterful songwriting abilities have been demonstrated in past albums. Ultimately, after listening to “DSVII,” one will most likely enjoy it as peaceful background music, but will never be drawn to the album again.