Named after the Messier 83 spiral galaxy, M83 take the similarly swirling undercurrents of shoegaze as channeled through a minimal digital spectrum. The idea of penning such a genre with synthetic overtones seems like a logical step for any of those one-word bands from two decades ago, but reality showed us otherwise. Most of them (Lush, Ride, Slowdrive, etc.) fell out of fashion during the run of American grunge, but it’s easy to imagine that had the genre been able to sustain itself for a while longer, those bands may have put away their guitar pedals long enough to discover they could achieve similar headspace with a keyboard and a few fingers.
M83, now reduced to sole member Anthony Gonzales, tackled that idea head-on with the first pair of M83 releases. With album three, Digital Shades [Vol. 1], he’s putting away his Creation Records collection and channeling Brian Eno with an assortment of pleasant if not entirely uneventful ambient exercises.
You’re hereby warned that Digital Shades contains no drums or guitars—newcomers should point themselves to this year’s ’80s flashback Saturdays = Youth or 05’s trippy Before The Dawn Heals Us—so leave album three to the completists and trance followers.
For my ears, the best tracks are the ones featuring vocals (“Coloring The Void” and “Sister [Part II]”), but both the opener, “Waves, Waves, Waves” with its tidal effects harmoniously underneath a synthesizer swell, and the eight minute closer “The Highest Journey” vie for attention in an album that provides an ethereal soundtrack for some late-night chill out. The brevity helps too: Digital Shades clocks in at a mere thirty-five minutes, well short of the moment when the piece wears out its welcome.
Digital Shades was originally released last year, as a digital-only release and pricey import. It’s now available domestically thanks in part to the attention that Gonzales is getting with Saturdays = Youth and some high profile tour dates. The timing of this album’s release leaves much room for instant resentment if newly acquired fans stumble across it and consider it a logical successor to M83’s more noteworthy moments.
It’s a stand-alone piece with the “Vol. 1” subtitle hinting at future installments for an ambient series under the M83 nameplate, but Gonzales has clearly proven he’s proficient at whatever canvas he’s using. Digital Shades shows his range with a somnambulist stare is almost as compelling as when he’s looking down at his shoes.