REVIEW: M83 - Oblivion (Motion Picture Soundtrack)

It’s hard to judge a soundtrack purely on its own merits, out of context from the film for which it was originally intended, and by which it may have been inspired. This gets even dicier without having seen said film... More so yet when trying to attribute that work to a well-known, zeitgeist-shaping artist -- Anthony Gonzales, better known as M83 -- with full knowledge that he isn’t working alone here. (See also: partner in Oblivion crime Joseph Trapanese, of Tron: Uprising and The Raid: Redemption fame.)

That said, from this usually-collaborative effort’s sparse yet swelling opening notes, to M83’s own new song -- this soundtrack’s closing number and title score, featuring Norwegian vocalist Susanne Sundfør -- Oblivion (the album) should as a whole work very well in its intended context (i.e. draped over a big-budget Tom Cruise action movie, taken in at an overcrowded IMAX movieplex with HD surround sound and all the concessions). Which is also to say that its brand of cool can hardly be called understated: mod indie-noir soundtrack this is not. And that’s okay; obscurity is not for everyone. Because sometimes you just need another Tom Cruise running scene, complete with anxious violin triplets to accompany the ever-building chase. 

Of course, it does raise the question, “Is this really even an M83 album?” It also raises the tougher question,“What is an M83 album?” -- an open inquiry in the aftermath of 2011’s then-grandiose, now-legendary Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Once-cocooned M83 has indeed completed his broad metamorphosis, suggesting his mass “Muse-ification” may now be fully underway: an “uber-epicness” whose roots were always present in the work, but once allowed to fully manifest, went totally astral, leaving a trail of sci-fi stardust so hard to follow it eventually exceeded its own critical mass, ending in a boom more implosive than expansive -- more fizzle than sparkle, more style than substance -- leaving but the shadow of a bloated alien race eclipsing the original spark of life. Twilight, some might say, ever-dwindling.

Or maybe it’s just this rant that has jumped the shark. After all, M83’s first release off the soundtrack, “Star Waves,” does hearken to the material on Hurry Up, a tried and tested formula widely deemed -- if his latest tour was any indication -- a massive success.

Moreover, soundtracks generally serve a very specific purpose and, in that, this album will faithfully serve and likely succeed. And for good-enough reason: So many of its peaks and valleys, including Odyssey Rescue and Canyon Battle, perfectly capture dynamic cinema magic, leaving one entirely open to the possibility of Batman himself jumping out at any given moment from behind the snack counter and into the theatre darkness. Another track, I’m Sending You Away, combines sweeping orchestral movie sound and M83 electronics into a compelling hybrid swirl no doubt worthy enough of big-screen scoring. 

But for longtime fans of M83 coming to this in hope of catching a glimpse of the man pre-metamorphosis, or for those who feel that the best part of M83 is the “dance party” aspect of his work, “enough” may simply not be... enough.  For those, this latest effort may feel lost in a sea of melodramatic mood-evoking strings and timpani builds, leaving the audience a bit dazed, with chapped salt lips, popcorn-skin teeth, and roof-of-the-mouth movie-butter residue suggesting similar remnants deep-lining the old arteries of the soul, building up one thrill at a time. Mmm. Oblivion.