M83: Fantasy

It’s hard to believe M83, the project of French multi-instrumentalist Anthony Gonzalez, has been recording and releasing his albums of dreamy, shoegaze-inspired electronica for over twenty years now. Fantasy, M83’s ninth studio album, is a collection of a baker’s dozen tracks that finds Gonzalez returning to his method of combining reverb-soaked, layered synths washing through over a steady beat while simple, echoey vocals are sung and an occasional repetitive lead guitar line is plucked out. The formula is one that can be easily replicated, and it’s a minor miracle that Gonzalez has been able to turn out hours of this stuff to a fanbase that is somehow miraculously able to differentiate one “song” from the next.

Giving Fantasy’s instrumental opening track a title is an annoyingly odd choice, particularly because its three-minute runtime consists of only a percussion-free synth wash that slowly builds and then fades. Regardless, after the intro, which shall go nameless here out of petty spite, “Oceans Niagara”, Fantasy’s lead single, starts up. It’s a decent moment delivered with driving drums that just over two minutes in builds into a familiar wall of keyboards that anyone who’s heard M83 would most certainly tell you is the project’s trademark sound. The rest of the record’s first half doesn’t deviate much. The songs fade in, build to a wall of sound generated by synthesizers, emboldened by obvious room noise, and then fade out. We’re given only a slight respite from the M83 blueprint by the time we reach “Radar, Far, Gone”, Fantasy’s halfway point wherein the synths back off just enough for us to hear gently played piano chords and a lightly strummed guitar.

The album’s title track opens Fantasy’s second half. A solid bass groove plays over a disco beat as a passable synth hook reveals itself over Gonzalez’ minimalist vocals that have him mindlessly yelling the words “shout it” and “fantasy” over and over. You might even call “Fantasy” synthpop if the reverb was backed off just a bit, but then it wouldn’t be an M83 song, would it? At this point we’re just under forty minutes into this thing, and it feels like enough. Still, the album plows ahead for another twenty-plus minutes with mixed results. “Sunny Boy” is a fun moment that offers bubbly synths but for whatever reason the song is broken into two parts with an entirely ambient two-minute “Sunny Boy Part 2” rearing its head after the eight minute (!!!!) painfully slow builder “Kool Nuit”. It’s at this point, one wonders whether Gonzalez is just testing our patience, or perhaps he’s just tossing in enough extra nonsense so that he fills two vinyl records. Cha-ching!

When considered on its own, “Dismemberment Bureau”, Fantasy’s ender, isn’t completely awful. The track’s opening analog retro synth hook and the vocoder-enhanced vocals are rather nice. The closer makes for a moody, thoughtful piece that, predictably, works its way up to a wall of layered synthesizers before dropping away until only the retro analog hook is heard one more time, ending the recording. At over one hour, Fantasy is bloated. But anyone who’s heard anything from this project over the last twenty years will know exactly what they’re in for. Still, at some point you have to ask yourself, how much is too much?

Rating: 4.0/10

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