Doesn’t it feel like there should always have been an M83 album called Fantasy? For any other act, the title would sound too bland and generic – certainly not as evocative as Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. But then, Anthony Gonzalez possesses an uncanny gift for using lyrical clichés and cheesy instrumentation to relay a kaleidoscope of feeling. His grand, splendrous synthpop revels in outsized emotions and the power of imaginative world-building, steeped in nostalgia but transcending its vast swathe of influences, from old films to the familiar comfort of classic video games. When he repeats the words “Beyond adventure!” over and over on the first single ‘Oceans Niagara’, longtime fans have every reason to believe that’s precisely where we’re headed. And even if you’ve never heard of this band (unlikely), it doesn’t take long for him to prove it. There isn’t a time in M83’s career when the name Fantasy wouldn’t have felt incredibly on-brand, but nine albums in and after years of wrestling with the overwhelming success of ‘Midnight City’, it seems like Gonzalez has found the confidence to go all in again. Fantasy has a lot to live up to, and it does not disappoint.
For one thing, Gonzalez makes no attempt to shy away from maximalism, like his vision was to make the whole thing feel like a cosmic embrace – think Beach House’s Once Twice Melody without the veil of mystique. (Mimicking that record’s extended rollout, he even shared the first half – or “chapter” – of the LP a month ahead of its release.) “I’m in love with some sadness,” Gonzalez sings on the ‘Amnesia’, whose new wave sound is so blown-out and exhilarating it’s no wonder the darkness ended up being buried in the mix. What ultimately shines through isn’t melancholy but the miracle of love burning “fast and bright,” and it’s impossible not to fall for it. Fantasy doesn’t run at that pace for its full hour-long runtime, though; it might give the impression Gonzalez is traveling across space and time, but really, he’s an architect, meticulously structuring and sketching out the voyage. Everything has its rightful place: the tender ballad ‘Radar, Far, Gone’ doesn’t just offer temporary reprieve, but serves as a poignant centerpiece as revelatory as any blissful crescendo. Even at its dreamiest moments, the record eventually succumbs to rhythm and form: ‘Us and the Rest’ is bathed in serene melancholy, but before you know it, the track ascends back into that higher plane.
Press materials describe Fantasy as Gonzalez’s “most personal album yet,” which may be hard to dispute, but it’s personal in a way that invites you to project your own image into the horizon. “If my sister calls/ Tell her I’m diving into the deeper end/ To the age of wonder/ Where the wire stretches,” goes the euphoric chorus of ‘Earth to Sea’, and the exact words may not even register when he later proclaims, “The deeper end/ I fucking love it/ It licks your soul, before you know it,” but they sure pack a punch. M83 songs have a strange way of describing their own emotional impact without coming off as too on-the-nose, because it’s more like they’re responding to the music: “When you hold us/ It’s electric,” he sings against the celestial expanse of ‘Laura’. The outro of ‘Sunny Boy’, propelled by the question “Can we just make it last?”, seems poised to fulfill its own wish; yet even as the song sprawls over six minutes, its flame seems to die out a little too soon. Perhaps it will stretch out further in a live context – Gonzalez has said he “wanted this record to be very impactful live” – but here, the moment is subtly bittersweet.
Which would explain why he follows it up with ‘Kool Nuit’, the longest track on the album, and one where he truly doesn’t hold back. It keeps morphing as it goes on and on and on, even allowing the introverted artist to let out a scream amidst a rush of imposing strings and ravenous electronics. It’s too startling to doze off to, and when he’s spent so much of the album enchanting the listener with pure romanticism, it’s too late to turn away when the dream suddenly turns haunting. It’s too late to say anything other than: “I’m in love with the darkness!” In a recent interview, Gonzalez explained that, when he’s making songs, “I want to feel like I want to drive fast, I want to run fast, I want to feel like the sound is actually taking over my whole body.” It strikes me as a little too modest. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been behind the wheel, and maybe there’s just too much gravity involved in running, but when I listen to Fantasy, my mind vibrates to the tune of a different kind of magic, beaming out far and wide.