M83'S Saturdays=Youth is a synth-laden paen to Molly Ringwald's '80s
Phil Spector may or may not have been the first to use layers of overdubs to convey the widescreen-aspect ratio of teenage emotion. Nonetheless, he certainly carved a niche. Adolescent euphoria be thy name: Brian Wilson, "Baba O'Riley," Bradford Cox, and now Anthony Gonzalez on his new M83 album, Saturdays=Youth (Mute).
"I have such good memories of my teenage years," Gonzalez confesses over the phone from his native Antibes, France. Saturdays=Youth wraps wasted youth in nostalgia for 1980s pop, and it's a dangerously fun tonic. "John Hughes was my main influence on this album," Gonzalez said, and the proof's in the overheated lyrics, the sun-struck portraits, and the quick changes between subgenres, which resemble so many high school cliques. Saturdays=Youth is no less ambient than Brian Eno's chilliest scores, but instead of Music for Airports, it's Gonzalez's "Music for a Molly Ringwald Movie."
When Gonzalez first emerged with his massive, bright synth rainbows on earlier M83 albums like M83 (Mute, 2001) and Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts (Mute, 2003), he came off as a post-shoegaze Enya. The crucial change on Saturdays=Youth is first apparent after the marching chorus opening "Kim and Jessie" drops out, leaving space for Gonzalez's verse. Instead of coasting on an endless climax-loop, the song makes effective use of a traditional pop structure choruses, bridge, and masterfully diffused outro to convey the simple exuberance of two teenage girls sneaking liquor in a patch of woods. Gonzalez downplays revisionist favorites like My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain here in favor of shinier surfaces descending from groups like Simple Minds and Tears for Fears.
M83's dips into catchy new wave ("Graveyard Girl"), Hot Topic goth ("Skin of the Night") and electro-gospel ("We Own the Sky") are smoothed by the album's high definition gloss. After only working with sound engineers in the past, Gonzalez opted to collaborate with two different producers on Saturdays=Youth. Ken Thomas' long résumé makes the album one degree removed from Gonzalez favorites Cocteau Twins, while Ewan Pearson is known for his sleek dance tracks. "The combination of these two producers brings something interesting," Gonzalez muses, and the songs do seem to sway between velvet reverie and intense ear candy.
"My older brother used to lend me his VHS, so I used to watch with my friends," Gonzalez said. "A lot of horror movies and a lot of the teen movies. When I was watching the John Hughes movies, I was 13 or 14. I felt really close to the characters." At its best, Saturdays=Youth slows these generational markings into a ritualized ghost dance. The album is certainly a simpler, less troubled nostalgia piece than something like Donnie Darko (2001). What of the fact that this heavily marketed teenage paradise was borne of American conservatism? Gonzalez doesn't have the answers, but his transporting music makes you feel silly for asking too many questions.
With Berg Sans Nipple
Wed/21, 9 p.m., $16
Great American Music Hall
859 O'Farrell, SF