The first thing I noticed about Digital Shades, Vol.1, when I started playing the disc, is that the song titles near perfectly matched the songs. I know this is a normal thing with ambient music, but with M83, whose previous work was a bit different, I was surprised. I don’t know what that has to do with anything, other than the fact that Anthony Gonzalez definitely had a vision in mind when it came to creating an album that was a departure for his `band,’ but still retained the same name and distinctions.
Having departed from musical partner Nicolas Fromageau pre-Before the Dawn Heals Us, and after that subsequent tour, embarked on a quest to fulfill a creative void, one eventually sated by ambient music. Digital Shades, Vol.1, named after the methods by which he both created and shared the music, and also denoting that it will be the first in a series of such excursions, shows us yet another side of the talented Gonzalez. With each release, M83 exhibits another facet of the galaxy of brilliance after which they are so named.
Back to my original observation, the album opens with “Waves, Waves, Waves,” and the digital mix that Gonzalez stirs up sounds exactly like the electronic equivalent of waves breaking against the shore and seabirds overhead. But it’s not as if it’s a nature sounds CD you get in a kiosk at Target. No, this is ambient of the first degree. Gonzalez went back and studied krautrock, Eno and other ambient roots, resulting in an album in which those pioneers would indeed be proud. Gonzalez also proves on Digital Shades, like those successful before him, that electronic music is not necessarily absent of heart or soul. Each track, such as the elegiac “Sister (Part 1),” yearns, pines, and agonizes with emotion.
I thought immediately of two different things when listening to Digital Shades, Vol. 1. The first is Vangelis’ soundtrack for Blade Runner. There is something in M83’s songs that was also inherent in Vangelis’, that being the theme of a machine striving to be human. The second thing I thought of was practically every intro to songs on either U2’s The Joshua Tree or The Unforgettable Fire. I’m sure that has something to do with Eno’s involvement in those albums, but both “My Own Strange Path” and “Dancing Mountains” sound like the intros for “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “MLK” respectively. Do not mistake Digital Shades as a mere side project for M83. This is incredibly meaningful work and some of the best music Gonzalez has created to date.
Vangelis- Blade Runner Soundtrack
Jean Michael Jarre- Oxygene
Brian Eno- Ambient 1: Music for Airports