Many people have a defining moment from their childhood; For M83’s Anthony Gonzalez, childhood seems to be the defining moment of his life. Every album since 2008 inspired by John Hughes Saturdays=Youth communicated with a specific set of nostalgic memories, either Mellon Collie and Infinite Sadness (hurry up we are dreaming), classic Nintendo sheet music (DSVII), either Punky Brewster (Trash). While González has been uncharacteristically quiet on the subject of the ’80s and ’90s ephemera informing M83’s new album, his wide-eyed enthusiasm indicates the band’s continued interest in reliving those early pangs that adulthood cruelly shuts down. His name is Fancy because of course it is. The first (and only) words of the lead single “Oceans Niagara” are “Beyond Adventure!” because of course they are.
Fancy represents a course correction after TrashIt has a more playful vibe, but it’s also a slight revival of the bright, garish elements of that album. In a classic “back to form” bait move, González delicately throws Trash under the bus in press release: Says he let the “negative stuff” – i.e. his distaste for “the world is going too fast” – influence that album, while this time longing to recapture the “energy” of 2005 youthfully dramatic. Before the dawn heals us. The timing of their return to that album makes perfect sense: M83 has always been inspired by the twenty-something aesthetic, and now their early material is old enough to fit the bill.
The big emotions of songs like “Don’t Save Us From the Flames” and “Teen Angst” are back, but, fittingly, Fancy, are harder to attribute to real-world concerns like car accidents or hormones. The patient construction and bottomless vocal harmonies of the cavernous ballad “Us and the Rest” tug at the heartstrings, but the lyrics contrast all that pathos with sci-fi absurdity. Here’s the second verse in its entirety: “Hello monster!/Can you see the stairway to heaven/By the limbo cafe/Leading to the green ray?/Sometimes it fades…” Sure, you could argue that listening to M83 for the lyrics it’s like watching Terrence Malick movies for the dialogue, but Fancy is by far the most detailed offering from the once primarily instrumental band to date.
González has said that he wanted to be more “present” this time around, in the interest of achieving a more “personal” album, and at times, like the 10cc closer “Dismemberment Bureau”, we get a clearer picture of the balance between his longstanding reverence for bygone media and his creeping sense of dread at what replaced them. “Do you miss the day/of human revolution,” he and Kaela Sinclair ask, invoking one of the biggest cultural shifts of the 20th century: “Television/What a great way to learn/About us and the heirs of our land. “Those moments of clarity are fleeting. Fancy it’s certainly more wordy than its predecessors, but if anything, the added syllables cloud the message of a band that’s been defined by one-liners and fantastical: “The city is my church”; “We own the sky”; “I will travel in your dreams.” Instead, the songs are dominated by phrases more suitable for advertising Mountain Dew: Dune Edition: “cosmic adrenaline,” “immortal energy,” “unlimited star,” and “metal ecstasy.” Though they sometimes aid, or at least complement, M83’s head-in-the-clouds worldbuilding, this album’s writing does not reflect González’s stated interest in revealing more of his own psyche. To be fair, it’s hard to imagine what M83’s deeply personal lyrics would have looked like at this stage in his career. The tightrope drama of Before the dawn heals us and Saturdays=Youth they’re the closest they’ve ever come to being related, but even that felt like an extension of the band’s exaggerated, intensified view of late 20th century teens.