M83 – Junk
Released April 8th, 2016 on Mute Records
My wife and I keep Sirius XMU, the “indie” satellite channel, on in the car pretty much all the time. One consequence of this is that, when the blogger guest DJs come on, things can get pretty random. One day, during what might have been Brooklyn Vegan’s set but was probably Gorilla Vs Bear’s, the subject of vaporwave was brought up. Sort of. Whomever it was referred to what they were playing as “weather-channel-core”, as in “the sort of music that you’d hear played over the weather channel as it flips through various local and regional forecasts.” This is pretty similar to the concept of vaporwave – where the dulcet sounds of late 80s/early 90s training video music (along with every other uncool musical movement of the era) are reconstructed into something bizarrely post-modern. Either way, it’s taking the sound of music that was never really meant to be listened to actively and ensuring that the listener has to do so.
The genre has had some limited success, mainly online. Macintosh Plus (or Vektroid, as she normally goes by) had a lot of people on /mu/ convinced with Floral Shoppe that vaporwave was their life. Saint Pepsi has bubbled around alt-indie radio and Oneohtrix Point Never celebrated his signing to venerable Warp Records with R Plus Seven, a heavily vaporwave-influenced album. Still, in a year where everything sounds like Drake (because everything on the charts has Drake on it, natch), it’s hard to imagine people grooving to adult contemporary saxophones, smooth jazz sounds, factory-preset synth voices, and those hollow, echo-laden drums that scream “cheap Eighties power ballad”. And yet, here is Junk.
Of course, if anyone was going to “go vaporwave”, it was going to be Anthony Gonzalez. His M83 project may have kicked off with a couple of hard-synth albums that appropriated the bombast of Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness for an uncertain new age, but his sound came into its own on Saturdays=Youth, the soundtrack to the dream John Hughes movie that only ever existed in your head. It was unabashedly influenced by the Eighties, to the point where the person inside you that desperately wants to be cool feels uncomfortable listening to it at times. Hurry Up We’re Dreaming followed this up with a sprawling double album of synth-rock heroics, dream pop bliss, and more of that Breakfast Club soundtrack vibe. Junk is not like that. Junk takes Gonzalez’s love of 1987 and dives in full-force. This is the smooth jazz-AOR-proto-diva-power-ballad-hybrid album that has been lurking inside of his head since forever. “Go!” has one of those searing guitar solos that used to anchor pop songs (like Eddie Van Halen’s wailing on “Beat It”); “Walkway Blues” has some texture-treated sax (or synth-sax, possibly); “Moon Crystal” is pure VHS nostalgia – an advertisement for a spa, or some other feature you’d watch on an internal hotel channel. “For The Kids” is the sappiest family movie ballad that was never released in a glut of bad straight-to-video movies, although “Atlantique Sud” comes close. “The Wizard” adds in the thin-tape of cheap commercial grade VHS sounds, like a training video that’s been watched too many times over thirty years. “Sunday Night 1987” closes out the album with exactly what the title promises, a smooth, nearly edgeless bit of calmed-down soulful balladry with those Casio-preset piano noises and reedy late-period Billy Joel saxophones.
Junk has all of the trappings of vaporwave except perhaps for its politics. The artists that originally started piecing together the disparate parts that make up the genre intended to offer a satire or critique of modern consumer culture and the disturbing habit of throwing away everything that is even the slightest bit old. It’s meant to reveal the cracks in the golden facade of capitalism by ironically remixing music that was only intended to be a backdrop to sales tools, or to cynically fill in places in art that was only ever intended to make someone along the chain some money. Does Junk fulfill this? Not particularly. It seems to function instead as an homage to Gonzalez’s youth, much as his previous two albums functioned. It uses nostalgia to make nostalgic art, rather than critique the past and future. It’s done in such a deft and seamless way, however, that I can’t really count that apolitical status as a fault. Instead, it’s a tribute to a time and a sound that most people would rather gloss over or ignore. You can see that reflected in the reaction to the album; most people don’t seem to know what to make of it, thinking that there must be some hidden ironic agenda going on that they’re not in on. The cheese is sincere, however, and celebratory.
AND THE REST…
04/08/2016 on My Animal Home Records
That Kickstarter Josh Dibb did initially to crowdfund this album? He donated most of that to charity. Kickstarter is problematic. Sleep Cycles is a good album though, one that approximates the bare essentials of his Animal Collective day job without getting into the high-flying lysergic excesses.
A Cure For Loneliness
04/08/2016 on Concord Records
The former singer for the J. Geils Band tries to pretend that thirty years of history hasn’t happened and that he can still get away with lite-rock AOR music. It’s always fun when you can guess exactly where each song is going to go from the minute it starts. Did I say fun? I mean sleep-inducing.
04/08/2016 on Universal Music
Like an actual fever dream, it goes in many strange directions and there’s very little to grasp onto once you wake up.
Future Of The Left
The Peace and Truce Of The Future Of The Left
04/08/2016 on Prescriptions Records
I just want an album that’s as rich, over-the-top, and powerful as Travels With Myself And Another. Admittedly, this comes pretty close.
04/08/2016 on Moshi Moshi Records
One of those indie albums that sounds an awful lot like all the other indie albums. Except for “Dusseldorf” and “Glory Hallelujah”, though: both of those are stellar tracks.