When M83′s fourth album was released in 2008, critics used up a year’s supply of John Hughes references fixating on the band’s debt to the ’80s. But with a little distance, the record’s retro leanings are less remarkable than its prescience, anticipating a whole swath of sumptuously textured electronic/rock fusions that would follow in the next few years.
Heard alongside M83′s previous albums, Saturdays = Youth shows how much the band was looking forward. Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts was a volatile mixture of post-rock and ’70s cosmic rock — like Godspeed You! Black Emperor with a serious Heldon jones. Before The Dawn Heals Us found bandleader Anthony Gonzalez paying a loving tribute to My Bloody Valentine; the songwriting, more developed, remained overshadowed by the overall vastness, like decorative windows beneath looming thunderheads. (Not a bad thing — that tension is precisely what gives songs like “Don’t Save Us from the Flames” their power.)
But on Saturdays = Youth, Gonzalez finds a surer balance between figure and frame, and he also learns the virtue of pacing. “You Appearing” opens the album with the by-now typical swelling, yearning chords and whispered vocals, but “Kim & Jessie” digs into boldly streamlined pop with gusto. Sure, there’s a healthy dose of the Psychedelic Furs and Simple Minds in the gilded mixdown, and “Graveyard” taps both New Order and their C86 followers. But even when the references are specific, they never feel reductive. The closing “Dark Moves of Love” and “Midnight Souls Still Remain” prove how immersive M83 can be, in two radically different ways — one an endless crescendo of guitars, the other an 11-minute ripple of synthesizers. Too in thrall to teenaged instincts to fall prey to a “Losing My Edge”-type crisis, Gonzalez taps two decades worth of pop in the attempt to create something as just as timeless. More often than not on Saturdays = Youth, he succeeds.