Second Look: M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

[Mute/Naive; 2011]

M83‘s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is undoubtedly a relic of its time. It was released 10 years ago today, on October 18, 2011 to be precise. Back then it was actually the norm for hope to spring eternal. Odd, I know. 

2011 began with a literal omen, with 5000 blackbirds falling dead from the sky. The world’s slow descent into hell would eventually devolve further into calamity with corrupt political leadership exposed in more than one way, while natural disasters, one onset by a catastrophic nuclear meltdown, would ensue to tear the earth into shreds. The only thing that seemed certain about 2011 was chaos. But amidst crumbling foundations, both literally and figuratively, a tiny glimmer of light shone through — a vessel to escape the tumbling walls of reality. 

Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. With an urgent title as such, this double album presented itself at a time most dire.

For many of us younger millennials moving into young adulthood, it was difficult to grasp a world in toil. Our virgin consciouses were christened to its many horrifying habits and patterns, all at once. We finally understood why others detested the news. We knew what it meant to have anxieties that neither our young selves nor those in our circles of influence could dictate and alter by themselves. We were subject to an increasingly globalized world delivered to us, not by travel or mere experiences, but by the internet and its many lenses. Some of us, dependent on our circumstances and upbringing, had to be 35 before we were 16. But for many, this little double LP granted the space to escape like a child in pursuit of untethered dreams, hopes, and aspirations. 

Through its 80s-tinged collection of blissful post-rock crescendos and mosaics of synthpop euphoria, M83’s seminal record pushed for something better, beyond, and undiscovered, even though the world it spoke into, swam in dark waters, full of demise and disrepair. One could argue that it was the last great record to fully embrace dreaming, hope, and even more dreaming.

With soundtrack-like atmospheres billowing in tracks like “Echoes of Mine” and “Steve McQueen”, among many others, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was – and still is – easy to become lost and enraptured in, as it offers idealistic realities that strayed far from corruption, pain, and hardship. For some, this collection of tracks elicits scenes lifted from an unmade John Hughes coming-of-age flick. For others, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming still conjures memories of flipping through that childhood picturebook, which first captured your blossoming curiosity – before society’s depravity could take hold. 

In all of its iridescent joy, the escapist possibilities of M83’s sixth record remain boundless, with each arriving with the same sensation for its respective listener – like a walloping wave that crashes and rains down its immensity without end. It’s a daunting swell to brave, but it’s one that you inevitably relinquish yourself to.

With no explicit personal narrative for listeners to latch onto, it’s pretty fascinating how Anthony Gonzalez was still able to devise a record that was so easily impressionable and resonant. Much of it had to do with its retro-futuristic aesthetic and the unabashed aim to make anthemic synthpop appealing again. Was it derivative? In hindsight, yes. At the time? There was no denying that M83, between Hurry Up We’re Dreaming and its predecessor, 2008’s Saturdays = Youth, was delivering a refreshing spin of pop music while dipping its toes into waters already tread. In fact, back when we initially reviewed the record 10 years ago, we maintained that “No one sounds like M83 – no one comes close.” Boy, did that change for better and for worse.

Truthfully, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming really predicted the next half-decade or so of indie music. Loads of overwrought stadium acts wanted to make their own version of M83’s seminal release. Coldplay, OneRepublic, Imagine Dragons — they all, to some degree, tried to throw their hat into the arena of stadium-sized, retrograde synth music, without really understanding what made Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming so appealing and affecting in the first place. This record still reverberates through the hearts of many because it merely aimed to inspire by transportation – to a place that seems familiar yet paradoxically futuristic and alien. It’s quite an uncanny album; not much is said, but things are certainly felt, remembered, and projected into a dark future ahead. 

A vivid expression of guileless and faultless pleasure for an optimistic view of the future, Hurry Up We’re Dreaming‘s emotional grandeur is revealed with zeal, unsurprisingly, through its unmistakable and unshakable generational anthem. “Midnight City” is the starry-eyed, nostalgia-yearning gem that helped define the early 2010s and young adult book-to-film adaptations. Yes, its initial splendor has eroded over years of vapid commercial play and placements, but it’s the propulsive transcendental pop masterpiece that still perfectly conveys the coming-of-age arc. The album’s rose-colored magic, however, doesn’t begin and end with its platinum-selling single.  

If that young adult book-to-film adaptation didn’t feature “Midnight City”, it probably featured the waltzing cinematic build of “Wait”. The Sigur Rós-sized swells of this song are earth-shattering, to say the least, and yet, it’s oddly comforting to wilfully wither away under its enormity. The toddler-spoken “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire” (“Tell Me A Story”) relishes in being able to look up and outward, and despite how unassuming and out-of-place this cut can feel, it’s truly the child-like heart to Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. It exudes the mental state of discovering something new, pushes against maturity and impurity, and cherishes the simple, naive, and magical. 

The clashing percussion and surging strings of “My Tears Are Becoming A Sea” begin the second half of the record with fireworks, thrusting listeners into seemingly inevitable oblivion. But in its towering beauty, the song sets the stage for the blanketing magnificence that consumes Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming the rest of the way. The reverie-esque journey ensues with pulsating electro-pop gems like “New Map” and even unabashed glam rock exuberance in both “Ok Pal” and fan favorite, “Steve McQueen”. With a few more reflective interludes dispersed throughout, listeners are fully immersed in romantic hope, utopia, and dream-like scenarios that feel kindred to some unplanned Peter Pan adventure.

Unfortunately, dreams and childhood aspirations have their expiration date, and what a god-awful feeling that can be once they’re dashed. “Outro”, stunning and atmospheric through and through, captures that exact reality. There’s nothing pessimistic or downtrodden about the track at all; it’s the fact that it simply suggests the inevitable end of this experience – this masterpiece. As soft piano keys twinkle away into dissipating hum, dreadful reality creeps back in. You realize, 10 years later, the world is still drowning in its own muck, and blackbirds continue to fall to their deaths from above. Oh, what we’d give to have an album that allowed us to dream again.