You are here

Dead cities, red seas & lost ghosts

  1. Birds
  2. Unrecorded
  3. Run into flowers
  4. In church
  5. America
  6. On a white lake, near a green mountain
  7. Noise
  8. Be wild
  9. Cyborg
  10. 0078h
  11. Gone
  12. Beauties can die

Dead cities, red seas & lost ghosts is the intriguing title of the second studio album by French duo M83. Specialized critics consider this their best work, and it is also the last one in which founding member Nicolas Fromageau took part, before leaving Anthony Gonzalez as the sole permanent member. It this circumstance explains the subsequent drift towards more commercial territories of the following albums, will not be determined here.

In any case, back in 2003 these two musicians still had the courage and the mentality of 'nothing to lose', enough to risk with a lush sound, vintage and post-modern at the same time. With distorted guitars, analog rythm machines and multiple synthesizers in 'sawtooth' mode, Dead cities, read seas & lost ghosts' themes are at some points close to the gloomy shoegaze ambiance, and at some others they are suddenly glorious sonic outbursts.

The album opens with a short introduction, 'Birds': on top of birds' trills and synthetic strings, a robotic voice repeats the sentence "Sun is shining, birds are singing, flowers are growing, clouds are looming and I am flying", like a mantra opening the door to a world where synthetic and organic are not clearly defined, or maybe are an indivisible whole. 'Unrecorded' begins with a powerful sequence and synthetic strings (a structure that another French musician, Vitalic, would use in his famous 'Trahison' theme a couple of years later), just to go down progressively in its second half, more thoughtful and sorrowful. This theme was used in the trailer for the Russian film 'Night watch' (T. Bekmambetov, 2004). This was a precedent for what would come later: a few themes from Hurry up, we are dreaming (M83, 2011) have been used in commercials and Gonzalez himself scored in 2013 the film 'Oblivion' (Joseph Kosinski). A disappointing soundtrack, attending to the bigger freshness showed in his first albums.

'Run into flowers' has a vitalist appearance within its chords and choirs, and the lyrics ("Give me peace and chemicals, I want to run into...") are a tempting invitation of the hippie cliché. Green meadows to go through with a naïf rythm. Follows 'In Church', a church hymn for organ and bright synthesizer, supported with angelic voices. Following this description, it may seem that Dead cities is a disjointed album, but it is not. The different themes go from withdrawal to euphoria in a few beats, from rock patterns to synthetic pseudo-symphonism, without breaking the intrinsic link between themes, without losing the essence of a recognisable whole.

'America' is the track closer to shoegaze, with its multiple synth layers and distortions reaching almost intolerable levels of noise and dragging the listener into the deep. The samples sounding in the theme are from the thriller movie 'Don't look now' (N. Roeg, 1973). And 'On a white lake, near a green mountain' is the closer we will get to a pastoral landscape. This music is capable of building a solid wall of sound, almost impenetrable, just with a few notes. Nonsensically, a track titled 'Cygorg' is the album's warmest, mainly because of the clean guitars that play the main melody over robotic sequences and electronic circuits effects. 'Gone' is a beautiful, paused electronic adagio, a perfect counterpoint to the crazy '0078h'.

The album closes with 'Beauties can die': a mix of tenderness (the track starts as a lullaby) and violence, of acoustic and electronics, as if the natural and the artificial were different faces of the same sonic prism and M83 were turning it around in front of our eyes. By the way, just like in some movies, you should stay until the end of the credits.

Like M83 (2001) and Before the dawn heals us (2005), Dead cities, read seas & lost ghosts has been re-released in 2014 by French label Naïve Records, after some years unavailable. This is the same label that counts, among its artists, with the well-known Yann Tiersen, and they released an interesting edition in three different formats: CD-digipack, double vinyl and digital download. In addition, the same label has published each Remixes & B-Sides, both for Before the dawn heals us and this Dead cities, red seas & lost ghosts.