Before the Dawn Heals Us is M83's follow-up to the 2003 international breakthrough Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. If you're noticing a trend toward drifting album titles, that's deliberate -- M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzalez loves crafting antigravity masterpieces of layered and meandering synthesizers. He's also the principal player on Dawn, with previous collaborator Nicolas Fromageau having moved into solo work. Left to his own devices, Gonzalez has made a more cohesive record than Dead Cities. As nice as they were, that album's synthesized soundscapes tended to drift into a foggy territory between Boards of Canada and Tangerine Dream. Dawn remedies that with the addition of vocals, more consistent beats, and a cinematic pace. "Teen Angst" and "Don't Save Us From the Flames" pin gorgeous melodies to an indie electronic sound comparable to the Notwist; "Flames" in particular is a great departure, roaring out of the gate with giddy drum fills and an oscillating keyboard squiggle. "Farewell/Goodbye" is an icy, Air-ish duet between Ben of Cyann & Ben and Big Sir vocalist Lisa Papineau; it's not the most effective thing on Before the Dawn Heals Us, but it works as a love theme to the imaginary Michael Mann film Gonzalez seems at times to be directing. (Check out that cover art.) The album also has its stretches of instrumental wander. "I Guess I'm Floating," for example, features a scattered sample of children's laughter over lingering keyboard flourishes. But Gonzalez never gets carried away on the breeze -- he'll set a mood, but he'll cut it wide open, too. "Let Men Burn Stars" is a breathy and innocuous lull before the recording's most intense passage, "Car Chase Terror." "Look at my hands, I'm shaking...." a woman (actress Kate Moran) says over the hiss of crickets, her words tense with fear. A moody electronic pulse fades in, and suddenly you're in the midst of the chase, narrated by the same scared voice -- "Turn the key! Go! Go!" -- and the melody is melodramatic and terrifying all at once. Before the Dawn Heals Us is ambitious for sure, an emphatic step forward from the linger of Dead Cities. But it might also be a transition album for Gonzalez, a storyboard of where he'll take M83 next.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus