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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
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Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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No Age - Everything in Between
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Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Saturdays = Youth

Rating: 8.2/10 ?

May 6, 2008
Over the past several years the cultural trends of the 1980s have slowly become a commodity within the contemporary movements of pop culture. While big hair, big pants and skinny ties are alternately scoffed and sported, what many people still seem to miss is the body of positive technological advances of the time. We may look back on them as antiquated in this day and age, but the sounds of the midi-capable Yamaha DX-7 and the synth-heavy marketplace of the '80s forever changed the way artists create and listen to music. Not only were these sounds heavily influential at their inception, they have also become a staple of creating nostalgia for the first generation that can expect to be worse off than their parents. On his latest record Saturdays = Youth, Anthony Gonzales, the lead-man of electro-laden group M83, realized the potential to relieve and revisit the trends that were more than just novelty.

There's something instantly recognizable when listening to Saturdays = Youth, the most obvious being Gonzales' signature reverb-soaked electronic layers. A sheen at first, the coats of illustrious sound begin bursting through the seams of the record, providing dense electronic drum tracks reminiscent of Tears for Fears circa Songs from the Big Chair. While most people have been busy comparing Gonzales' work to the likes of My Bloody Valentine, from the additional female vocals to the more focused interplay of the shoegaze movement and a pure quality in songwriting Saturdays = Youth seems to have much more in common with Slowdive's Souvlaki. The lead single from the record, "Graveyard Girl," is surely bound for every Summer Jamz Mix 08, and the track is perhaps among Gonzales' best songwriting efforts this far. Providing a semi-cheesy interlude of dialogue from a girl that surely cuts a Molly Ringwaldian figure (is that her on the cover?), the sample sounds like text straight from the script of a Sixteen Candles knockoff. While some may find the vocal track to be a run-of-the-mill gimmick, in the context of "Graveyard Girl" and the album as a whole it fits with great precision. Gonzales is showing his sympathy for the teenage struggle without poking fun, as many of those reminiscing in this era of wretched 80s gimmick bands fail to pull off.

This air of sincerity is where Gonzales pulls himself above the rest, his understanding of the sound more centered on paying homage than riffing on a tired joke. With the help of veteran producers Ewan Pearson and Ken Thomas, Saturdays = Youth resonates with the 80s vibe of the Cocteau Twins, Depeche Mode, Public Image LTD, David Bowie, and many other artists that directly influenced its sound. By tracking down the producers behind some of the most influential records in the underground circle (and the most off-kilter records in the mainstream circle), Gonzales achieves a sound of unquestionable authenticity, not one of replication.

The tracks are not only authentic in their sonic characteristics, but they also find Gonzales tapped in to the lyricism of his inner-youth. "Kim and Jessie" is a gorgeous narrative about high-school love and its innocence that is deadly accurate (and has nearly dead-accurate drum sounds from Tears for Fears "Head Over Heels") while "Up!" sounds like Kate Bush's sound and lyrical content filtered through a shoegaze lens. On first impression even the track names - "Highway of Endless Dreams," "Skin of the Night," "Midnight Souls Still Remain" - reflect the parallel world of a teenager in the 1980s, when everything was utterly carefree yet simultaneously seemed to be the most important thing in the world. Oh, our teenage emotions.

Now on their fifth full-length, M83 has consistently released albums that have been set within a specific mood (see also: Gonzales' new Digital Shades ambient series) - and Saturdays=Youth is no different. That said, the mood here is incredibly potent and full of life, leaving a lot more to offer on repeat listens than previous recordings. Saturdays=Youth acts like a collective memory bank for those of us born in the 1970s and formed in the 80s, in that the pop culture references of the time never get old when storytelling with friends, nor do they ever completely disperse from our current train of thought. Like it or not, the 1980s are part of who we are and Gonzales' homage to the decade is the closest thing to perfect he's achieved.

Reviewed by John Bohannon
An LAS contributing writer based in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, John Bohannon is also a regular contributor to the pages of Prefixmag.com, Daytrotter.com, and Impose Magazine.

See other reviews by John Bohannon



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