M83’s newest LP Junk is just that — an album stuffed with junk.
With minor exceptions, M83’s Junk is overwhelmingly stale. The first two tracks, “Do It, Try It” and “Go!” are easily the best on the album, with boisterous productions and decent melodies. From there, however, a relentless onslaught of dramatic yet empty mid tempos suck the life out of an album that was supposed to be full of promise.
M83’s last release, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, was one of the most critically acclaimed records of 2011. It produced a platinum hit in the stratospheric and psychedelic “Midnight City.” After almost half a decade away, fans and critics alike expected that M83 would return with not just a good album, but a great one. After all, the threat of a sophomore slump passed in 2003.
Instead, Junk feels like it’s going through a civil war, unable to determine what it wants to be. At points, the LP sounds oddly Broadway, with strings and dramatic half-sung lines on “For the Kids” coming off as bizarre, and with the monologue of a young child in the bridge, unsettling. At other points, like the Mai Lan-assisted “Laser Gun,” it’s wildly lucid. From start to finish, it’s impossible to understand what M83 is trying to express. Instead, it only raises questions: Is this a love album? A reflective album? A psychedelic one? Or is this truly just “junk?”
There’s little consistency or cohesiveness on the LP, making the product as a whole ambiguous. Celestial and futuristic themes are strong undercurrents on the ambient LP, with the awkward interlude “Moon Crystal” and “Laser Gun” displaying this prominently in their titles. Tracks like “Walkaway Blues” sound otherworldly with staccato riffs and distant lyrics: “Taking a foreign flight/Looking for signs of life.” However, these themes appear and disappear too spontaneously for any real meaning to be derived from them.
The most egregious quality of the album, however, is the abysmal organization of the track listing. Tracks three through seven are almost indistinguishable, failing to compliment each other or the album and killing the energy that later tracks like “Road Blaster” try to restore. The sparse beacons of hope on the album, the thumping uptempos, are stuffed at the beginning and middle sections, leaving massive chunks of the record without energy. At 15 tracks, those bookend songs have to carry so much dead weight that the record is prone to suffocating the listener.
Throughout, M83 makes the mistake of not playing to their strengths. They shine with vibrant instrumentals and beaming synthesizers, yet they devote their attention to redundant piano and kick drum lines. When the band attempts to enter the realm of the conceptual and multilinguistic, they fail to capture the energy of artists like Grimes and Phoenix. When sinking into a relaxed, psychedelic groove, M83 sounds like a poor man’s Tame Impala. Whatever Junk tries to accomplish, it ends up falling short of the achievements of M83’s past records, as well as the work of their contemporaries.
To say the latest release from French electronic band M83 is underwhelming would be an understatement. Disjointed and conflicted, little can be salvaged from the wreckage of an album that tries and fails to make substance out of nothing.