Top 10 Songs of 2011: #5: “Midnight City” by M83

27 Dec

Most of the time it takes a few albums before a band reaches its true pinnacle. Actually, most bands don’t reach this apex at all. But when bands do rise to a higher level, it is always so much fun to reap the benefits of this maturation. In M83’s case, the zenith was reached with the 2011 release of the double album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, and specifically with the ethereal track “Midnight City.”

Anthony Gonzalez

M83 was Anthony Gonzalez and Nicolas Fromageau. Since 2004, though, it has been the baby of Gonzalez and whomever else he calls on to join him in creating music. Most consistently this has been percussionist Loïc Maurin, vocalist Morgan Kibby, and his brother Yann. For Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, Gonzalez called on Beck and Nine Inch Nails’ bassist Justin Meldal-Johnson, Zola Jesus, and even James King of Fitz and the Tantrums (remember him from yesterday’s post)?

Gonzalez took care of: vocals, art direction, backing vocals, clapping, conductor, design, electric guitar, keyboards, orchestral arrangements, piano, producer, programming, snaps, synthesizer.

I’d say he has a say in what is released. Meldal-Johnson also played a crucial role in the development of the album’s spacey and skillful feel. This is his line:

Acoustic guitar, bass guitar, clapping, electric guitar, engineer, keyboards, mandolin, percussion, producer, programming, snaps

What I am attempting to achieve in listing the credits is an understanding that Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was put together by some very talented musicians and when a conglomerate of talented musicians produce successful work it sounds like this:

Interestingly, last year I featured “Flash Delirium” by MGMT at around the same spot on the 2010 countdown. “Midnight City” links up to MGMT’s hit slightly. They both toy around with neo-psychedelia, creative musical constructions, and heavy synthesizer sounds. But “Midnight City” takes on a dreamy electronica feel that “Flash Delirium” does not have. Music critics have labeled M83 as a shoegaze band, but, with “Midnight City” especially, I feel that Gonzalez has lifted the band beyond the conventions of that genre – immature wall-of-sound alt/rock effects and distortion – and into a realm of ambient fluidity that flows like warm water. The song is inviting, intriguing and insightful.

The first 40 seconds of the song deserve a breakdown. The very beginning of the song features a lone synth over a strung-out note. The synth in trademark M83 fashion (i.e. “Lower Your Eyelids to Die with the Sun” off of 2005’s Before the Dawn Heals Us”) tells a story. It speaks to the listener like a passionate lyric. A low bass is added into the mixture and supports this delicate combination until the song explodes with some more heavy synth, electric drums, and a female vocalists high hum. The resulting combination is flat-out magical. There is no other way to describe it. This combination will persist in the song, both haunting and inviting.

The verses feature a vocal interplay over some rhythm. The lyric is a little difficult to understand, but, in songs like this, the most important part is the melody and, well, you kind of create your own story. The video portrays their vision – an X-Men like jailbreak – but feel free to imagine what you’d like. I would like to point out one piece of poetry I find impressive:

Waiting for a roar
Looking at the mutating skyline
The city is my church
It wraps me in the sparkling twilight

Yeah, I kind of got that sense too when listening to the song. Yes, this is a little heavy-handed and grandiloquent, but, I still like the poetry.

I’m sure by now you are wondering where James King fits into all of this. He is a saxophonist, right. Well do you hear that incredible sax solo at the end of the song that plays over the repetition of the main theme. I think this was a highly intelligent touch in this song. King plays an energetic solo and it elevates the music to a new level until the fade.

4 Responses to “Top 10 Songs of 2011: #5: “Midnight City” by M83”

  1. John Phillips December 29, 2011 at 12:12 am #

    Good comparison with MGMT

  2. The Boy! January 2, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    I hope it does not feel like I’m spamming you. Last comment for today, I promise.

    You finally convinced me to add this song to my library. I heard it 3 times before I think but I still wasn’t ready. Some songs just need more hearings.

    Lastly, I am adding you to my Versatile Blogger award nomination. I know John already added you, but you are so good that I need to put you up too. I will definitely visit your site often.

    • Matthew Coleman January 2, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

      Thanks a lot! I am enjoying my first views of your blog as well. I had the same experience with this song as well. After a few listens I was hooked, but I needed those initial listens. And, please, I love the comments and talking about great music


  1. The Top 10 Songs of 2011 – In Review (10-1) « The Music Court - January 3, 2012

    […] to describe it. This combination will persist in the song, both haunting and inviting.”   Read the Full Article […]

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