There is some dispute over what M83’s Anthony Gonzalez just told us. His four-piece band clanged the final chord of “Graveyard Girl,” and he admitted something into the mic—his first banter of the night! But what did he say?
“Yes, I was that guy,” says a kid in a tight polo shirt. “That’s what he said.”
“Seriously?” says his pal. This is a depressing concept. “Graveyard Girl” is a deeply weird and sad song about a teenager with mood swings. The only man in the song is Death. Death, we’re told, is “her boyfriend.”
“You have to listen through the French accent.”
Almost nothing that Gonzalez said or sang was comprehensible, but that isn’t important to the sound or act of M83. His whispered, Jacques Chirac-thick vocals are a relatively new addition to the band’s electronic drone. The old songs, the ones that predate 2005’s Before the Dawn Heals Us, begin with some simple figure, no more than four or five notes, played rapidly and hypnotically one of Gonzalez’s synthesizers. The piling-on starts. Sometimes it’s a distorted guitar that comes in, sometimes it’s another synth pattern, sometimes it’s a context-free movie soundtrack (always a voice sounding terrified, breathing heavily, like the guy who says “It’s in the trees!” at the start of “Hounds of Love”).
Either you’re hypnotized or you’re not. The heavy crowd at The Black Cat split into the hypnotized and the mildly amused, with the former gaining more and more recruits as the night went on. The band killed it on “Teen Angst,” a silver bullet of song from that 2005 record that stacks drums on synths on drums on husky female vocals. When it ended, a voice near the front of the stage started to crack. “Oh, god!” People near him laughed. “Oh, god, oh my god!” It was good, yeah, but that good? Meg Ryan in a diner good?
M83 are noisy enough and repetitive enough to sound like a post-rock band, and they’re French, so you could call them Frogwai and probably get away with it. Listened to at length, in a dark club, in a neighborhood where people come to concerts in order to not dance, it starts to sound more recognizable. It’s goth for people with a sense of decorum. When the band works into a long song like “Couleurs,” they can watch the front rows’ low-impact dance—Nod your head! Buckle your knees! Bend your waist slightly! —pick up speed and spread around the room. The pop songs from the band’s new record Saturdays=Youth sound like classic Cure singles, and the Black Cat dances to them the way it dances to “Just Like Heaven” when it cues up on the club’s frequent 80s nights.
M83 were preceded by School of Seven Bells, an NPR-ready band finally reveal what would have happened if the twin ghost girls from The Shining spent their adolescence listening to Psychocandy. Benjamin Curtis (he of Secret Machines) anchors this band, and sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza do everything hauntingly—play guitar, play the synthesizer, harmonize dark lyrics. They played a short set longer on drone than songs, but it worked, and it complemented M83 perfectly. No one could have liked one band and disliked the other. This isn’t an exciting niche, or a new one, but if the world must contain indie goth it should always be so melodic.