Treble 100: No. 67, M83 – Saturdays=Youth

M83 Saturdays=Youth Treble 100

This is the story of the summer I fell in love thanks to the music of M83.

In March 2008, after writing music reviews for about two years, I received a promo copy of M83’s Saturdays=Youth. It had only been a few months that I’d started receiving music from record labels without an assignment first. (Music arrived in my mailbox and email inbox without asking for it! I felt so cool.) And what little I knew about M83 came solely from their 2003 release, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, but it didn’t connect with me at the time. Yet this one absolutely bowled me over. The stunning intersection of shoegaze and electro-pop instantly captured my attention, as it accurately reflected the direction of my musical interests at that time. I wrote a glowing review of it for my personal blog wherein I spoke admiringly of the thick ‘80s nostalgia vibes, the huge ‘90s overdriven guitars, and how the synths and hooks tied it all together.

The album stuck with me for months. I returned to it whenever I had the chance, dissecting Anthony Gonzalez’s songwriting and arrangements. Warm waves of chords drenched in layers of echo ebbed and flowed like the tides, as the dynamic shifts provided a recognizable rubric for the various moods of the songs.

My big-picture appreciation of Saturdays=Youth changed dramatically in Summer 2008. In my mid-twenties, I spent my second summer working at a Boy Scout Summer Camp, a decision that, to this day day, I’m still not sure why I made. At that time I worked in a coffee shop and independent book store operated by the church I attended. I also wrote about music for some online magazines, including an upstart Houston-based publication. But there was something very escapist, very man-child, very “Peter Pan” about choosing to be in charge of the merit badge program, working right underneath one of my brothers in the camp’s hierarchy. 

Right before I left Houston for two months in Central Texas, however, I went on a date with an amazing woman. She was smart, pretty, loved music, and had an amazing laugh. Our mutual friends sang her praises, we went to that same church, and we’d met each other a few times before. How I kept forgetting her is a story for another time. Luckily for me, she was moving to Austin for a new job in June 2008, which meant we could hang out a bit in our free time.

And hang out we did—which meant lots of driving. Not only was my camp about 35 miles from her apartment, but we then had to drive to various bookstores, record stores, restaurants, and movie theaters. Since we both loved music, we used our respective CD collections and the Sirius XMU channel (then called “Left of Center”) as fuel for conversations. We discovered significant overlap in the kind of music we liked, even though we didn’t always like the same bands. This made for fun chats and debates about what we liked, didn’t like, willingly tolerated and actively avoided.

Matched only by Fox Confessor Brings the Flood by Neko Case, nothing captured our mutual attention that summer like Saturdays=Youth. I believed it to be a complete musical thought without any skips, and she found multiple singles that delivered the “magic” she still seeks in music. The album served as a regular soundtrack for our road trips that summer and throughout the rest of 2008. It also served as a metaphor for our burgeoning relationship.

As “You, Appearing” slowly creeps in with a gentle piano riff, I’m reminded of our first tentative in-person chats. We were both nervous, but we also felt a strong spark between us. We weren’t sure what to do with it, but we knew it was right. And when Morgan Kibby breathes out “It’s your face” atop increasingly swirling synth pads, I’m reminded of the joy I felt seeing her face at every possible opportunity that summer.

“Kim & Jessie” opens with a superb drum lick from Loic Maurin and a strong 8-bar guitar riff that serves as the song’s melodic hook. The song then follows a standard quiet verses and loud chorus setup that showcases a tender intimacy between the title couple before bursting into a fevered conclusion. The bridge into the chorus and outro also reminds me of late night drives around Austin doing absolutely nothing, simply because we didn’t want the night to end.

Instead of ramping up the emotion from the previous song, “Skin of the Night” delivers a necessary downshift in temperament. The minor-key guitar arpeggios dance with the thudding toms while Gonzales works effervescent magic on the keys. However, the ethereal back-and-forth vocals between him and Kibby deliver the most resonance. It’s directly reminiscent of the conversations we had deep into the night

The most ebullient and over-the-top pop track on the album, “Graveyard Girl” is both supremely optimistic and totally goth. It has an upbeat rhythm, keening guitars, and overall bright tone. But it’s also about a young woman unsure of her feelings, unclear if she even deserves them. We had conversations about similar themes during the first few months of our relationship, specifically regarding mistakes made in the past that made us leery about opening up romantically to anyone.

What I’ve always liked most about the eight-minute “Couleurs” is its sense of strong movement, introducing some kraut-rock to the band’s French electro aesthetic. As the tension builds and volume crescendos, you can’t help but enjoy the electric groove the band creates. In 2008, we loved cranking up this song as loud as possible while also opening the sunroof of her Jeep Liberty as we drove up and down Hill Country highways.

Our favorite memory of “Up!” is the same in 2023 as it was in 2008: a mondegreen in which we hear Kibby sing “We can shake the maracas” instead of the correct “If I clean my rocket.” The song itself has the chill, andante rhythm centered around synth swells, plinky keyboard effects, and syncopated drumming. It’s serves as a relative palate cleanser before we get into the album’s true high note. Think of this song as M83’s version of a slow-burning ballad, even as it eventually reaches a post-rock style climax.

“We Own the Sky” finds twinkling keyboard patterns interlocked with airy guitar chords as Gonzales and Kibby coo cryptic lyrics about the often fleeting nature of young love. In our growing relationship, we chose to live out this line from the first verse: “Keep blowing and lighting because we own the sky.” We felt like nothing was in our way, and it was glorious.

“Highway of Endless Dreams” felt like the flipside of “Couleurs,” another top-down, windows-open tune, but its minor-key edge better suited it for nighttime cruising around Austin. Powered mostly by a six-chord progression on guitar, it slowly increases in intensity across its four-and-a-half-minute runtime before cresting in a haze of rumbling toms and whining synth pads.

On “Too Late,” we have Anthony Gonzales deliver his take on a piano ballad. It’s relaxed, personal, and introspective, right down to the jazz-inflected guitar licks that provide just the right amount of texture. The twist is that the lyrics speak from the perspective of someone wondering if their newly found love is actually a ghost. For us, we preferred focusing on the phrase “I look into your eyes, diving into the ocean” as we did spend long stretches of time just talking and looking at each other.

The penultimate track, “Dark Moves of Love” is mostly a three-minute jam with sharp guitars, powerful drumming, and anthemic walls of synth. It’s an absolute exultation of youthful abandon before the album ends with an extended denouement. We loved using its energy during make-out sessions—and I have no problem admitting that to the readers of this fine website.

Closing track “Midnight Souls Still Remain” is composed of a two-chord phrase slowly pulsing up and down for 11 minutes. That might seem like either too much or not enough, in the context of what comes before, it’s the perfect conclusion to the album. After 50 minutes of intense emotions, powerful banks of keyboards, sublime guitars and delicious energy, you need a cool-down period or something meditative. In Summer 2008, this song reminded us that our time together was drawing to a close, so we needed to enjoy every moment until we could see each other the following weekend.

Despite the album’s relative reputation, Saturdays=Youth isn’t entirely about ‘80s nostalgia. At least not to me. I believe those moods and sensibilities are provided as a template for a deeper discussion of what it’s like to be young and in love. The music and track listing effortlessly distill the intoxicating blend of romance, optimism, and passion that you can detect in any budding relationship. It’s the stuff of dreamy delirium as if the world stops spinning just so the lovers can spend as much time together as possible. Just because these songs share that in common with John Hughes movies doesn’t mean they’re exclusively tied to that era.

Eventually, my wife and I got married to M83. My baby brother played the hook, verse and chorus of “Kim & Jessie” as the wedding party walked up the aisle to begin the ceremony. We chose that song because it reminded us of the early days of our relationship and how we wanted to remember those feelings as our relationship developed and grew. Thus, the music of Anthony Gonzalez and friends has soundtracked much of my life over the last 15 years—and it all started with Saturdays=Youth.

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