Ever since the surprise success of 2011’s Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, M83‘s omnipresent member Anthony Gonzalez has been seeking different ways to decamp and fight against the pressuring demands of being a modern musician that is constantly slaving over an impatient content hungry generation. Armoured with boundless imagination, the recently-turned 43-year-old’s coping method is to create escapist worlds. Previously, Gonzalez exiled to the quirky world of television theme music (2016’s Junk) and ventured into the innocent paradise of computer game soundtracks (2019’s DSVII). While those worlds were magical and drenched in M83’s idiosyncratic childhood nostalgia, the French project’s new ninth album sees Gonzalez jump into a vague (although we know it’s somewhat aquatic at least) limitless realm, simply known as Fantasy. From the album cover, and the music video to the lead single ‘Ocean’s Nagara‘, we know that this world is fronted by a monstrous figurehead. Whether he’s intentionally evil by taking advantage of a lost traveller seeking new friends or simply misunderstood, we may find out. The adventure awaits us…
After delicate sombre strokes of guitar, we are hypnotically triggered by a subtle splash sound to dive ‘Water Deep‘. Fuzzy disorientation, jangly guitars and the beautiful ambience akin to M83’s soundtracks (such as Oblivion) paint a dream-like state and guide us calmy through the first part of our unpredictable journey that invites to let ourselves go. Sirens alarm as we enter the energetic ambient rock world of ‘Oceans Nagara’ in which Anthony Gonzalez informs us that this intense dimension we are entering is “beyond adventure”. However this adventure isn’t lonely, Gonzalez is joined on Fantasy with regular buddy Justin Medal-Johnsen, along with Joe Berry, Kristina Esfandari and Kaela, whose presence is felt most prominently on the wild French-language track ‘Kool Nuit.‘
Fantasy is perhaps a series of dramatic blot prints in the mindset of Anthony Gonzalez. This is a musician who in interviews has said that he, whether metaphorically or not, wants “the world to forget about” him. He already sounds like he wants to leave his old life when singing with a sense of emo gloom on ‘Amnesia’: “I’m in love with some sadness / So let’s burn/ Fast and bright“. Furthermore he makes it clear that he is leaving his friends and family on land to go in search for an“edge of wonder” underwater community that may heal his sorrows on the new wave ‘Earth To Sea‘, when informing us: “I heard of a legend, and that’s where I go. If my sister calls. Tell her I’m diving into the deeper end.”
After being provided with a warning (“Cause where you go it’s haunted, goodbye stranger”), on ‘Radar, Far, Gone’, he may have explored so deep that he meets the album cover’s character who is offering his own form of mysterious friendship that includes alternative telepathic qualities: “You don’t have to show your face. We only look inside, you see. It’s like you only talk in tears. It’s like you know our fears.”
His expedition sounds both like he’s inside The NeverEnding Story, as well as providing symbolism for feeling lost and aiming for something euphoric, when venturing up the “moon hill” and climbing up the “sky ladder by the limbo café”. Here he also meets other cosmic characters that capture his attention, such as the magnetic “radiant queen” known as ‘Sunny Boy‘, who’s “cosmic adrenaline” is making Gonzalez rather smitten, as well as the electrifying ‘Laura’ who teaches him that “there’s no distance in the soul” and claims to be “a faceless wonder” and “the mother of all over every galaxy.” These characters and their speeches could be straight from the films Labyrinth or Return to Oz.
It’s easy to relate to and be absorbed by Anthony Gonzalez’s decision to search for a magical respite as a temporary solution to his problems, yet Fantasy‘s finale ‘Dismemberment Bureau‘ shows that the expat appears to have brought back home some wise knowledge from his subterranean comrades, that could also be jibe on humanity’s reliance on media: “Do you miss the day of human revolution? What a good way to learn from the hand of a legend. An illusion on colour television. About us and the heirs of our land.”