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Best tunes of 2011: #9 M83 “Midnight city”

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Two songs ago on this list and over two months ago, I mentioned a weekend in Toronto in 2012 on which I went to concerts two nights in a row. The first night was Spiritualized for the fourth time with Nikki Lane opening at the Phoenix Concert Theatre with a bunch of friends. The second night I ventured out all by myself to The Sound Academy to see M83 with I Break Horses opening. I had an extra ticket but my wife was uninterested and I couldn’t drag any of my friends out after the heavy drinking from the previous evening. So it was a quieter, dryer event for me, being that I had to drive down to a more out of the way venue that I had never been to before. However, it ended up being a great evening as well.

Some might find it interesting that it was actually the opening band on this evening that was the bigger draw for me beforehand. This wasn’t the first time I went to a show to see the opener and it wouldn’t be the last*. On this night, though, as good as I Break Horses were to kick off the evening, M83 renewed my interest in them and made a bigger fan of me. I had gotten into them with their John Hughes-infused 2008 album, “Saturdays = youth”, but was somewhat disappointed with 2011’s followup, “Hurry up, we’re dreaming”. Seeing them live breathed a whole bunch of life into the dreamy double album for me.

M83 started out as the duo of Anthony Gonzalez and Nicolas Fromageau, forming the electronic outfit in Antibes in 2001. However, Fromageau left the project after their second album and Gonzalez has continued on as the driving force since then. He moved to California in 2010, which had a huge impact on the music that would become M83’s sixth studio album, “Hurry album, we’re dreaming”. And of course this is album on which today’s song appears.

“Midnight city” is track two, jumping in to pick up the end of the rope left dangling by the wondrous intro. It is a city that never sleeps and what happens there. It is a jumble of dreams built from synths and fantasies, cinematic and childlike, populated by all manner of beasts and creatures and overworked suits and ties. It roars and screams with electricity before being all wrapped up in a pretty package at the end with a wicked saxophone solo.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

* Writing this last sentence gave rise to the playlist I created last week inspired by all the great opening bands I have seen over the years.

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Playlists

Playlist: Synth-Pop is for Saturday Nights

The first ‘synthesizers’ were invented early on in the 20th century but didn’t truly find their way into popular music until the 1960s and 1970s. Then, a handful of punk followers took the ethos further and started making music with these ‘synthesizers’, all but completely dispensing with the tried and true rock music instruments. A lot of terms were and still are thrown about to describe the style of music that grew out of these first pioneers’ efforts and it’s often hard to differentiate between and or even define them.

‘Synth-Pop’, the genre that is the subject of today’s playlist, might be the easiest to define, being the most apt description for these acts that put ‘synthesizers’ and drum machines at the forefront of their sound. It was, in fact, a sub-genre of ‘New Wave’, as was the ‘New Romantic’ movement. Both of these are terms that are more difficult for this particular blogger to define, though I may make an attempt with a future playlist, more likely with the former than the latter. The term ‘New Wave’ especially, was misused, even more so where it was seen as a synonym for ‘Synth-Pop’ and ascribed to popular artists that came after the original explosion.

This twenty song playlist is a tale in two halves. The first ten tracks span the years from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, from the years where ‘Synth-Pop’ first appeared to the years that saw intense backlash and we saw the return of guitar rock prominence. The last ten tracks start things off with The Postal Service’s single from 2003, “Such great heights”, and flows on from there, through a sampling of the side of the 21st century indie explosion that was enthused with reviving the ‘Synth-Pop’ sounds.

Besides the just mentioned collaboration between Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello, other highlights include:

  • “Cars”, Gary Numan’s debut single released under his own name, save for the bass, drums, and a tambourine, it’s all synths
  • “Don’t you want me”, the best known single by The Human League, originally released as an afterthought off 1981’s “Dare”
  • A trio of tracks written or co-written by Vince Clarke: Depeche Mode’s “Just can’t get enough”, Yazoo’s “Don’t go”, and Erasure’s “A little respect”
  • “Seventeen”, the first single off Ladytron’s sophomore album, 2002’s “Light & magic”
  • “Lose it”, my favourite track off Canadian synth-pop act Austra’s 2011 debut “Feel it break”, an album written mostly in minor key, just like the best of Depeche Mode
  • “New balance point”, the brand new single off Lust for Youth’s self-titled fifth album

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist:

1. Gary Numan “Cars”
2. The Buggles “Video killed the radio star”
3. The Human League “Don’t you want me”
4. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark “Enola gay”
5. Soft Cell “Tainted love”
6. Depeche Mode “Just can’t get enough”
7. Men Without Hats “Safety dance”
8. Yazoo “Don’t go”
9. Pet Shop Boys “West end girls”
10. Erasure “A little respect”
11. The Postal Service “Such great heights”
12. Ladytron “Seventeen”
13. The Bravery “An honest mistake”
14. Chairlift “Evident utensil”
15. M83 “Kim & Jessie”
16. Cut Copy “Feel the love”
17. MGMT “Kids”
18. Austra “Lose it”
19. Purity Ring “Fineshrine”
20. Lust For Youth “New balance point”

But why is Synth-Pop made for Saturday nights? Eh, I guess it can work just as well on Fridays, or even Sundays, when indeed all Retro 80s nights seem to be scheduled at the clubs. I went with Saturday for the alliteration effect, really, and for the party vibe that many of these tracks elicit. So get out there on your dancefloor, wherever you might be.

For those of you who are on Spotify, feel free to look me up. My user name is “jprobichaud911”.