This is M83’s best album, and I say this with absolute certainty and I am taking into account that M83’s career is likely far from over. So yeah, when all the dust settles, and everyone’s off re-listening and re-evaluating their discography, you guys heard it here first. You can attribute this because of the differences that separate Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming from the M83 albums that preceded it:
1. M83 have always had a penchant for pretentious album titles – remember Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts? Remember Before the Dawn Heals Us? Remember the silly mathematical equation of Saturdays = Youth? Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is the first album title since their debut (or that ambient one that no one can or should remember) that doesn’t give me an eye-roll when I say it aloud.
2. This is the first M83 album that sounds like an M83 album. To recap, it was Anthony Gonzalez’s half-hearted attempts at recreating Loveless that captured the cold, calculating hearts of Pitchfork with 2003’s Dead Cities and continued onto Before the Dawn Heals Us. He also tried his hand at Brian Eno’s ambient antics on the latter, that culminated in the aforementioned ambient album, Digital Shades [Vol. I], whose sequel is probably and hopefully never going to arrive. With Saturdays = Youth – the best M83 album before this one came along – he dropped the Kevin Shields impersonations but picked up some Kate Bush ones. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming draws on 80s music, obviously, but it never sounds like any of the artists I just mentioned.
3. For the first time in his career, Anthony Gonzalez pushes his vocals to the forefront. Before this, he drowned his own diffidence in heavy processing, heavy accents, additional vocals and additional instruments. In this case, if you play this album loudly on your stereo and close your eyes, with the right mindset (I’m not necessarily talking about drugs; I just mean a positive and open mind – though drugs work too), you can practically feel yourself standing in a huge crowd and watching these guys live, shouting along to Gonzalez’s hooks that beg you to shout along in the first place. When the monologue of “Intro” ends and he takes center stage and yells “CARRY ON!”, it’s a hugely affecting moment. The same goes for the entrance of Zola Jesus’ distinctive and masculine-tinged voice at the 2:04 mark of the same song, or his “NO TIME!” on the crystal acoustic ballad of “Wait.” Hell, even the memorably synth riff from “Midnight City” – the driving mechanism of the track – are his vocals, just heavily distorted.
4. Whereas M83’s previous albums always hinted at certain emotions (the romance of “Kim & Jessie;” the anxiety of “Car Chase Terror!”; the teen angst of – ahem – “Teen Angst”), they mostly failed at generating them in either the music or within the listener. This is because Anthony Gonzalez’s lyrics are the sort that you’d find in a high schooler’s notebook, hidden underneath his/her bed because they were ashamed of what they had written. The lyrics of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming are still from the same notebook (sample monologue: “My body is like a lightning rod / Capsize me and douse me in your bay” – eugh, no one talks like that, not even if they were in high school and in the throes of love), but the music actually manages to (sometimes) convey the urgency or romantic notions in the album’s title.
There’s two obvious examples of what I’m talking about. “Raconte-moi une histoire” (French for “tell me a story”) features M83’s predilection for monologues, but because it’s coming out the mouth of a 5-year old girl (the producer’s daughter, one Zelly Boo Meldal-Johnsen – yes, apparently that’s a real name and not a candy), it’s cute instead of eye-rolling. You can practically see her mouth break into a smile after saying “Your mommy suddenly becomes your daddy / And everything looks like a giant cupcake.” Like I said, even if you’re the cynical bastard to not believe in the power of children stories, the music is affective: it starts with bouncing synths that follow minimalistic traditions, but once all the instruments have come into play (fingersnaps, drums, bass), it’s a wide-eyed journey into the kid’s Wonderland. Elsewhere, “Year One, One UFO” (one of the very few highlights from the second disc) is a similarly-paced jaunt (start slow, end fast) – the vocals (just one word exclamations this time ‘round) sound like they’re delivered by a kid as he’s sprinting down the road pretending he’s the Flash. The occasional drum roll helps push the momentum.
5. Despite being a double album and thus, longer than any of M83’s preceding albums, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming feels like their shortest. It’s in part because Anthony Gonzalez has thankfully ditched his stupid tendency to end on a 11-minute closer that fails to do anything interesting, but mostly because there was a lot of care in the sequencing of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. In an interview with Pitchfork before the album was released, he talked about how he only had “a good budget to make a 10-track album with good sound, so we had to find ways [to stretch it out].” That – in addition to the fact that this album was Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness-inspired – might suggest that there’s a lot of filler on the album, but frankly most of the filler tracks are just 1-2-minute “bedroom” pieces. Most of them are really harmless, sure – “When Will You Come Home?” is added to the long list of ambient ditties that’s just there; “Train to Pluton” is a brief synth noodling with some – you guessed it! – train noises thrown on top – but there would be a massive whiplash if the bombastic “Reunion” just segued into “Wait” without “Where the Boats Go” in between them. Elsewhere, the strings and the repeated mantra of “Soon, My Friend” make for a fitting first disc closer.
6. As you would hope from a double album, this album has more rewards than any of M83’s preceding albums. Whereas I could only fashion an EP out of those albums, I count enough tracks for a single disc album here. Take “Intro,” “Midnight City” (didn’t mention the saxophone outro earlier – an addition that makes an already great song greater), “Reunion” (great vocal hook), “Wait,” “Raconte-moi une histoire,” “Claudia Lewis” (great bridge, some nifty guitar parts) – all from the first disc – and add “OK Pal” (great vocal hook, even if it sounds exactly like the bridge of “Claudia Lewis”), “Splendor” (starts as a fair piano ballad, becomes an uplifting enterprise when the choir hits) and “Steve McQueen” (great vocal hook) from the second disc. Add whichever interlude track(s) you find most affecting and round it off with “Year One, One UFO” (because “Outro” did absolutely nothing other than what the title suggested).
7. This also has their prettiest album cover.
Final thought: once you’ve heard what this man does with “Midnight City” for his vocal audition to be a touring member with the band, you never want to hear the original again. “He really opens up at 3:55 and takes the song to a really special place” – yup.