After four years of nearly radio silence among a few other smaller announcements, Anthony Gonzalez of M83 finally returns with his long-awaited ninth LP Fantasy. A return to form in more than one era of the band’s past. Clocking in at 13 tracks and one hour and six minutes, it is definitely a hefty record with some pretty lengthy tracks. Fantasy is M83’s followup to 2019’s DSVII which was an entirely instrumental album themed around videogame soundtracks that was largely overlooked (and very underrated) in comparison to the album before that, 2016’s Junk which to many was considered to be a huge letdown (I think this record is highly underrated too for what it’s worth), so there has been a lot of pressure on frontman Anthony Gonzalez going into this record after the previous two albums not garnering much success in comparison to his 2011 magnum opus Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.
Fantasy is meant to be based around this idea of appealing to a live setting, stated by Gonzalez, saying he wanted the album to come across much better live than some of his other work, and to also have a lot more guitar and vocal work on the record in callbacks to his earlier albums like 2005’s emotional rollercoaster Before The Dawn Heals Us. However, after listening I think it is safe to say while Fantasy definitely has callbacks to these earlier albums, it is sort of a melting pot containing all of M83’s past and a small taste of what is to come for the future of the band.
The record starts off with the track “Water Deep” which is an instrumental intro of sorts. It starts out with some mellow acoustic guitar which segues into some crushingly big ambient synth chords which then build with other instrumentation added in as the track goes on. While it may not necessarily be much more than a brief intro, it certainly acts as an excellent opener and mood-setter for the rest of the album. Next Comes the album’s lead single “Oceans Niagara” which doesn’t conventionally follow what would be expected of a lead single. In fact, the only two words spoken by Gonzalez on this track are “Beyond Adventure!” which on their own seem goofy but in the context of the song and the album as a whole fit pretty well. As the track progresses the energy builds and builds with hard-hitting guitars and synths reaching their absolute max energy before letting go at the end of the track. Gonzalez stated, “I wanted to create this sense of friendship. Listening to that song, I imagine people running, driving fast, or riding spaceships together. It’s this sense of going forward. Like a magic potion that you take to discover new worlds” and the song quite clearly embodies exactly that.
After this, we get the song “Amnesia” which is a much more conventionally structured track that circles around some interplay between the vocals of Gonzalez and Kaela Sinclair, a keyboardist and vocalist during the M83 live shows since the 2017 Junk tour. Her voice can be heard quite a bit over the rest of the record and her vocals definitely don’t disappoint. The track “Us And The Rest” is what feels like this album’s equivalent of “Wait” from 2011’s Hurry up, We’re Dreaming. It slowly builds until soaring in the second half with this stunning wall of synths and drums, creating what is quite possibly the most epic and grandiose moment on the record.
Earth to Sea, the next song, is pretty standard M83 to start out. A punchy synth bass and some sweeping pads. The final minute of this track, however, is where it really shines. Everything just explodes into this beyond massive array of synths, guitar, and vocals, creating what, in my humble opinion, might be one of the most euphoric and emotional segments of music I have ever listened to. Even though the lead-up is pretty long, the payoff at the end of this track is absolutely worth the wait and even still everything beforehand still holds that classic M83 touch. “Radar, Far, Gone” could be compared to Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’s “Splendor” with a generous reverberated helping of choir-like vocals paired with acoustic guitar and piano.
Next, we get the slow moody track, “Deceiver” to bring us out of the ballad that was the previous track and prepare us for more uptempo songs to come. While not a bad song, “Deceiver” exemplifies what is probably Fantasy’s biggest problem, which is the pacing. Nothing about this song is off-putting or sounds innately boring but instead suffers the problem of sticking around for far too long. To me, this track feels like an interlude that got stretched beyond its reach all the way to a six-plus minute runtime. Other than that though, “Deceiver” is a great chill song to put on for a drive along the coast at night.
The title track however switches things up. It starts out with almost cult-like chanting and then shifts into a funk bass line and pan flute combo which works astonishingly well. The chorus is this crazy switch-up which has these stereo drum machine clap runs acting as just pure production ear candy at its finest. This song overall is one of the best moments on the record and definitely one of the most unique. It feels like a Junk leftover that ended up turning out better than a great deal of the songs from that album to begin with. “Laura” is one of the more typical songs from Fantasy and is definitely the most radio-friendly structure-wise from the whole album. If you’re looking for average M83-flavored pop, this is the song for you.
“Sunny Boy” comes next with one of the cooler track intros, the first minute having a feeling as if Jefre Cantu-Ledesma made post-punk instead of experimental ambient. These phaser-washed guitars eventually shift back towards the synthy-ness we all come to expect from M83. The rest of the song though still lives up to its introduction with hard-hitting choruses and these more ambient sections that have opera-esque vocals drifting around in the background of the song. Overall this is probably one of the catchiest songs from the album and will be stuck in your head after each time you listen to it.
Moving along, we get the orchestral epic that is “Kool Nuit”. It Features Kaela Sinclair by herself this time on vocals with this very string heavy emotive instrumental. About halfway through though the song shifts to this jumpy-sounding synthesizer which on first listen was probably one of the chintziest things I have ever heard but quickly evolves into this huge, more sinister, wall of noise which at its climax has Gonzalez screaming at the top of his lungs with the still urgent but calmer Kaela interjecting in between. “Kool Nuit” is another incredibly unique cut from this album that doesn’t manage to feel drawn out even though it borders an eight minute runtime. The next track, “Sunny Boy Part 2” is a shorter ambient interlude that doesn’t much resemble its predecessor. It doesn’t do anything too unique but if you’re looking for a nice synth drone to stargaze to, it sure as hell does a good job at that.
That brings us to the final track, “Dismemberment Bureau”. Over the years I’ve come to expect a lot from M83 closers, especially because of tracks like “Outro”, “Lower Your Eyelids To Die With The Sun”, and “The Highest Journey”. Even though this song is really great in its own right, as the final track, it was almost a slight disappointment with how much less emotive it was as a closer than I was originally hoping for. The whole second half is very reminiscent of his sophomore album Dead Cities, Red Seas, & Lost Ghosts. It has a slow build to this huge shoegaze-esque wall of noise, which by my standards is almost always welcome, but for the closing track of an M83 album after four minutes of buildup, it left a little bit to be desired to say the least and suffered the same problem that “Deceiver” had. It does wrong what worked so well with “Earth To Sea” and while I still liked “Dismemberment Bureau” I think it could have had a much more impactful finish. Those problems aside though this is still a pretty awesome track. There are these vocoder passages that are incredibly catchy and who can say no to a good wubby chord synth? The tracklist in total has some huge highlights for me and honestly no songs I wouldn’t listen to again.
Overall, this record is a great comeback for M83. While it doesn’t do leaps and bounds beyond what has already been done by the band, it is definitely a sign of a bright future. Instrumentally this album is massive and epic in the best ways possible. Lyrically, the record doesn’t necessarily get at any deeper problems or meanings, but just adds to this feeling of endless adventure and as the title suggests, fantasy. And while I do wish that maybe “Us And The Rest” should have been the closer instead of “Dismemberment Bureau”, that some tracks drag on too long, the record’s flaws are small enough that it doesn’t detract greatly from the experience as a whole. Fantasy feels like a faithful culmination of everything M83 has done in the past with a fresh perspective of time and reflection. Fans of previous albums like Before the Dawn Heals Us, 2008’s Saturdays = Youth, the cult classic Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming and the band’s shoegazey beginnings will most certainly find lots to enjoy here. Even listeners of his newer work like Junk and DSVII will find something they will likely enjoy.