Anthony Gonzalez has been to this place before, but he was different then. For 2005’s Before The Dawn Heals Us, the newly solo mastermind of M83 went big. It was his first album without former collaborator Nicholas Fromageau and it marked a big move away from the blaring shoegaze of their previous efforts toward gigantic synths and stadium-size drums. But where Dawn used the widescreen drama to ratchet up the dread and illustrate the sinister doom that lurked around every corner, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming expands upward and outward with a sense of hope, happiness, and even humor.
The immersive and superlative 22-track double album never illustrates the palpable joy Gonzalez has stamped across his sprawling opus better than “Intro.” Over pulsing keys, Gonzalez deploys his old voiceover trick but this time, instead of the heavy-handed movie dialog of “Car Chase Terror!” or the gooey poetry of “Graveyard Girl,” it’s reduced to a near-unintelligible whisper stating “We were you before you even existed.” It’s an equally chilling and comforting proclamation, one that matches the new, light quality to Gonzalez’s voice, balanced out heavenly here by Nika Roza Danilova (of Zola Jesus) warmly lifting the fog on the way to a crashing finish.
The levity of this new work certainly owes something to the bright-black ’80s nostalgia excavation trip M83 took on 2008’s Saturdays=Youth. That album’s atmosphere– that maintained a bit of Dawn‘s paranoia if only just to propel past it–shows up brilliantly on the second and third songs of Hurry Up‘s outstanding burst of a beginning. “Midnight City” immediately casts out a stinging web of synths and booming electronic drums (which never seem to run out of monster tom fills) as Gonzalez wholeheartedly sells lines like “The sea is my church.” But that’s nothing compared to the tremendous saxophone solo that recognizes the inherent humor of the instrument and wisely rides it sky high through our collective memories, conjuring images of a shaggy Rob Lowe opining the virtues of “premarital sax” in St. Elmo’s Fire. “Reunion” shoots straight forward on board clattering percussion, shimmering guitars, and Gonzalez’s pained yelp, somehow invoking Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” without really coming close to it.
Citing Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness as an inspiration for his approach, Gonzalez has said that he wanted his fans to have a “very epic” record that they could really dig into. Further adding to the mythology of the project, he’s recently claimed that both discs represent one of the siblings on the cover and that each song has a sibling on the other disc. So listeners can pour over the brother-sister relationship of the oddly charming children’s story of “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire” and the jangling echo chamber of “Year One, One UFO” in addition to simply peeling through the dense layers of production.
Even without the strange but intriguing sibling scenario, Gonzalez has easily achieved double-album grandiosity by creating a large world that is concrete and inhabitable for the listener, yet nebulous enough to latch onto any single person’s memories. And with less of the anxiety that marked his earlier albums, that world is a joy to get lost in over and over.