Recorded between Before the Dawn Heals Us and Saturdays=Youth, Digital Shades, Vol. 1 dives deeper into the ambient terrain that gives M83's other albums their uniquely hazy beauty. Anthony Gonzalez's love for the works of Brian Eno and other ambient masters has never been a secret, but M83's synths sound especially lush and massive here -- it's no coincidence that the album's opening track is called "Waves, Waves, Waves," and song titles like "Dancing Mountains" hint at the album's huge yet serene sound. Most of Digital Shades, Vol. 1 goes by in a blissful blur, with extra-soothing respites such as "Strong and Wasted," which incorporates crashing waves and chirping birds into its digital pastoral paradise. Since these songs are basically an homage to Gonzalez's ambient inspirations, it's not surprising that the album is more pleasant than groundbreaking. The songs with vocals, like the hyper-romantic "Coloring the Void" and "Sister, Pt. 2," find a happy medium between M83's other albums and the artists Gonzalez is paying tribute to on the instrumental tracks. However, the fittingly named "Highest Journey" shows Gonzalez's instrumental skills at the peak of their powers as it builds from a simple, rolling piano melody to stratospheric synth textures over the course of eight minutes. Even if it isn't strikingly original, Digital Shades, Vol. 1 is never less than lovely and soothing, and works as well as mood music as it does as an exercise for Gonzalez.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares