I was introduced to M83 by my friend Ben, who played me “On A White Lake, Near A Green Mountain” when I was at his house one Saturday evening. I initially thought it was really boring but, after hearing it and the full album a few more times afterwards, I changed my mind. It was in fact really, really good; it just took a bit of time to get into it.
The album starts with a snippet of bird samples and a computerised voice intoning “sun is shining, birds are singing”. It’s quite a weird way to start an album made almost entirely of electronically processed sounds – there’s nothing resembling anything as natural as birdsong anywhere else on Dead Cities – but it leads nicely into “Unrecorded”, the first full song on the album.
“Unrecorded” storms right out of the blocks, and hits you immediately with a wall of guitars, drums and synths. It’s almost a backwards song – it starts huge, and then peters out as each instrument is gradually removed, until you’re left with a slowly dying keyboard. “Run Into Flowers” picks things right back up again though, with its sweeping strings and repeated mantra of “give me peace and chemicals”.
These first three songs set the tone for the rest of an album that is perfectly paced, where every sound has been meticulously scrutinised. This can leave it feeling a little sterile and synthetic in places (I’d probably prefer “Noise” if it was a little looser, and it’d be nice to hear a bit more human emotion), but that’s only as a result of M83 making an album with the intention of drawing every last drop of emotion out of robotic machines and computers, where the unnatural is made natural and vice versa.
These emotions really come to the fore in the final two songs of the album. I challenge anybody to find a voiceless song as heart-wrenching as “Gone”, with its cellos and slowly bouncing drums, or one as uplifting as “Beauties Can Die”, which is right out of the Sigur Rós songbook. They close the album perfectly, after the walls and waves of sound that come before them.
Before hearing Dead Cities, almost everything electronic I’d heard (admittedly, that wasn’t very much) was quite soulless and cold. This album showed me that electronic music could have a heart.