The success of Saturdays = Youth and Hurry Up, We're Dreaming led M83's Anthony Gonzalez to even bigger, arguably less personal, projects like his score for the 2013 sci-fi blockbuster Oblivion, so it's no surprise that he reclaims his independence -- sometimes willfully so -- on Junk. With the audacious opener "Do It, Try It," a fantasia of tweaked vocals, slap bass, and unapologetically cheap-sounding MIDI piano, he and Justin Meldal-Johnsen let listeners know that the sequel to "Midnight City" isn't happening here. Instead, they deliver a love letter to vintage schmaltz that finds the treasure in what many consider trash. If Saturdays = Youth was a sweeping tone poem to the glamour of John Hughes' '80s, then Junk's look and sound prove M83 is just as devoted to the decade's decidedly uncool side. The album's artwork is bedecked with shaggy puppets that look like The Great Space Coaster rejects and scrawled lettering straight out of Punky Brewster, and Gonzalez and Meldal-Johnsen revel in their musical equivalents: the harmonica solo on "Sunday Night 1987" -- a title that distills Junk's mood and inspiration perfectly -- hasn't been used in such a genuine fashion since 1987. "Bibi the Dog" shows the era's Europop novelties some love, while "Moon Crystal"'s perky strings, brass, and keys are equally breezy and comforting, evoking a world lit only by the glow of a TV set. Elsewhere, the panoramic synths of M83's earlier work are traded for sharp-edged, aggressively digital sounds that connect less overtly retro moments like "Walkway Blues" and the high-octane romance of "Go!" and "Road Blaster" to the rest of the album. Junk's cultural dumpster-diving works so well because it's done with lots of love and zero irony. As Gonzalez mourns lost times, people, and sounds, the album's poignancy feels more genuine than its influences: the syrupy, borderline maudlin "For the Kids" could've been recorded by Bette Midler or Dionne Warwick for an animated kids' movie back in the day, but also lays bare the wide-eyed sentimentality of M83's earlier music. Meanwhile, "Solitude" and "Time Wind," a collaboration with Beck, capture the feeling of being small and lonely in a big world thanks to their sweeping arrangements, which feel as indebted to his work as a composer as they do to the 1980s' fondness for orchestral pop. Much like Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, Junk looks back in a way that's so accomplished that it's difficult to call it a retreat. Instead, it feels like a reminder that Gonzalez is dedicated to making music on his own terms, even if the results are polarizing. While all listeners may not share his fascination with '80s pop culture detritus, it's hard not to respect how expertly he transforms it into something genuine.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares