M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute, 2011)

I’ve been a big fan of M83 ever since I first heard “Teen Angst” in a trailer for the film A Scanner Darkly. While I didn’t enjoy that film as much, I really grew to love M83’s music, from the keyboard/synth-heavy Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts, to the more alt-friendly Before the Dawn Heals Us, to even the 80s-tinged homage of Saturdays=Youth. Now, following his last great release, Anthony Gonzalez says he wrote Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming as a double album, due to his obsession with albums like The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. While I can’t say that Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming necessarily matches the feel and length of that album, I can say that what Gonzalez has crafted is really something special. He aimed to make this double-album a sort of soundtrack representation of himself, according to an interview on Urban Outfitters, and as a result, there are some great sounds here for fans and newbies alike to enjoy.

I was enthralled to hear “Midnight City” for the first time this past summer, and the rest of the album does not disappoint in the least. The first track on the album, featuring Zola Jesus, is an incredibly epic combination of everything we’ve come to know and love from M83. The song is complete with an odd yet absorbing spoken word segment (“We were you before you even existed”), that sets us up nicely for Anthony Gonzalez’s powerful and full vocal entrance. Plus, the addition of Zola Jesus makes a nice complement to this track, making it one of the best the album has to offer. The rest of the album is a bit of a nostalgic melange, ranging from prog-rock anthems (“Reunion”), to post-rock smashes (both “This Bright Flash” and “Year One, One UFO” are almost entirely instrumental, but they are some of the most captivating tracks here, grabbing you as much as Mogwai’s “George Square Thatcher Death Party”). The tracks”Wait” and “Soon, My Friend” remind me a lot of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which makes me think that Anthony Gonzalez is truly paying homage to that album on these songs. Plenty of tracks serve as transitional soundtrack filler, and I feel like the album could have benefited without some of these short ideas (particularly “Klaus I Love You”). I appreciate the ongoing themes of youth, innocence and dreams that are here, but some of it gets a little out of hand (“Raconte-Moi Une Histoire” in particular is a little laughable, yet the idea here is pretty impressive). Nevertheless, what is here is still an impressive collection of music, stretching through the spectrum of electronic and alternative music. If, like me, you enjoy a little anthemic rock to complement your mundane work week, then definitely check this out.

Key tracks: CD1 – “Intro (feat. Zola Jesus)”, “Midnight City”, “Reunion”, “Wait”, “Claudia Lewis”, “This Bright Flash”, “Soon, My Friend”

CD2 – “My Tears are Becoming a Sea”, “New Map”, “OK Pal”, “Splendor”, “Year One, One UFO”, “Steve McQueen”, “Echoes of Mine”

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St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD, 2011)

I’ve never really listened to too much of Annie Clark’s project, St. Vincent, although I know of the significant following she has in the indie community. She has worked with The Polyphonic Spree, Sufjan Stevens and even Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. I’ve listened to Actor (her album prior to Strange Mercy), and despite the considerable amount of backlash I’ve heard the album receive, I have to say it’s not a bad one. This may be a little of an unfounded opinion, since Actor was my first exposure to St. Vincent. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Strange Mercy is a rocking force to be reckoned with.

The powerful guitar work and digital production here combines to make something truly amazing. I can’t get over the distorted guitar riff in the introduction of “Chloe in the Afternoon”, which sets us up perfectly for a simple, yet entirely captivating percussion entrance that just tears things up. It’s this combination that lets us know as listeners that we are about to experience a sound both intense and important. The album is especially strong in its middle, with tracks like “Surgeon” or “Northern Lights” that match dreamy synth pads with fun guitar lines (I especially dig the synth explosions that occurs in a later portion of “Northern Lights”). A friend of mine has claimed that this album is Annie Clark’s Kid A, and I can definitely acknowledge this: Strange Mercy is a game-changer, not just for Annie Clark, but for alternative music in general. A sure-fire favorite of 2011.

Key tracks: “Cruel”, “Cheerleader”, “Surgeon”, “Northern Lights”, “Strange Mercy”, “Champagne Year”, “Year of the Tiger”