In the run-up to Junk, Anthony Gonzalez said that “on the last album, there was too much of me,” referring to his centerpiece vocals on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. The 2011 record broke through to the mainstream with Gonzalez fronting the majority of his M83 compositions for the first time, a role he apparently found limiting.
On Junk, he returns to his man-behind-the-curtain role, designing widescreen pop from a distance. So while he certainly doubles-down on collaborators (Beck, among others) and limits the use of his own singing voice on the new record, he simultaneously loses much of his own signature. This is unexpected—M83’s mark was never etched by who was singing, whether it was himself, Zola Jesus, or a young voice narrating dystopian mini-movies. It’s an admirable effort to not simply repeat a successful album, but Junk is more often pastiche than absorption or reconfiguration of ’80s nostalgia.
True to its name, the album art has “Junk” spelled in the Punky Brewster font. One song sounds like an instrumental take on the Love Boat theme. There’s a fully committed, soft-cheese ’70s ballad; and two tracks feature Mai Lan and Gonzalez trading seductive vocals in his native French. Elsewhere there is a mondo radical Steve Vai guitar solo—reminiscent of Eddie Van Halen on “Beat It”—at the absurd end of “Go!”
As such, ’80s pop-funk from Michael Jackson or The Time are occasional reference points scattered between contemporary EDM and classic house, among others. An irritable writer might be tempted to pin one of Junk’s many locations between Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Downtown,” perhaps a neighborhood called Midtown Junk. Not garbage, but junk as in bric-a-brac, or ephemera. Still, there is a kind of neon fun to be had while hanging out with Junk, a place where no saxophone is too smooth, where no whim is left unindulged. “Laser Gun” is an especially cool blast of ’80s dance, beginning uneasily like Blondie’s “Rapture” before quickly finding its groove in a hopscotch chant that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Go! Team record.
Junk’s bar napkin organization never finds the kind of pacing and perspective that made “epic” such a tempting word to describe past M83 albums. He acknowledges the lack of continuity in the press materials, remarking that we live in a digital singles world, describing today’s art floating in space like tomorrow’s trash. Listeners are going to “just pick a track they like to put it on a playlist,” he says. “They’re not going to take the time to listen to an album anymore because they have to jump onto the next thing.” One can imagine that idea going double for Gonzalez as he crafted Junk, skipping from one pet interest to another, opening every shoebox of the brain and emptying its contents wherever they lie