m83, Before the Dawn Heals Us (Mute U.S.)

by Stephanie Duncan

In my mind, the French are creating a beautiful trend for themselves: one or two people creating vast, ever expanding tundras of self-aware sound. M83's third release, Before the Dawn Heals Us, is no exception. Now a one man band, Anthony Gonzalez deliberately chooses to teeter on the fine line between 'epic' and 'sparse'.

It opens with ethereal voices and swelling orchestrations. It sounds lush, thick and somehow strangely simple. It is music you would make if you were inspired by sad moments in life and wanted to make a soundtrack to accompany them. At the same time, it is uplifiting; there is an acceptance and a solitary joy in the sadness. To accompany that, we have solid, danceable pop mingled with heavenly choirs overtop airy synthesizers on the track 'Don't Save Us From the Flames'. Then, plunged back into that sparse aural landscape that exudes a reflective solitude.

The main themes on this apparent soundtrack to sadness seem to be relfection, a dream you might have before you wake up, and just as the dawn is breaking, the soft hues of enlightment flicker across the ground. There are also a lot of throwbacks to 1980s snythpop, which show a certain exercise of balance. It's not something that will make you entirely sad. Even on the darker tracks (In the Cold I'm Standing), the soft rise and fall of the instrumentations almost seem to imitate breathing, with a quiet male voice singing just like that--breathy. That softness, that careful construction takes the edge off of it. There is a clarity to his chaos-- even when it seems to dive entirely into noise, it understands it. Gonzalez lets his album bathe in it and then from that, he creates. Strangely, one of the best moments on the album is the song 'Safe', which is really a 70s style piano ballad.

So, while ambient at times, and chirpy pop at others, Gonsalez shows prudence and care in putting together this album. He has created an epic that is, at times, sad, and joyfully introspective at others.

Feb. 2005