Grace Notes: M83, Sam Billen

Grace Notes is a weekly exploration by Jason Morehead of signs of common grace in the music world. We hope to alert you to wonderful music, some of which will be spiritual in nature but all of which will be unique and worthy of your attention. Each week we will share brief reviews of albums worthy of your attention and maybe a video or two.

M83

There’s nothing subtle or understated whatsoever about M83’s music. One gets the sense that Anthony Gonzalez has no sense of self-restraint: he can’t help but pack his songs with any and every extravagance, from odd movie samples and spoken word bits to celestial-sized synthesizer and shoegazer guitar arrangements to healthy dollops of 80’s nostalgia. This is M83’s greatest weakness, as it can lead to bloated, self-indulgent songs, but Gonzalez’s gleeful sense of abandon can also make for a joyous, nigh-transcendent listening experience. As a double album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming walks that fine line due to its sheer amount of material. Gonzalez wins out in the end, though: this is an album that swings for the fences, wears its heart on its sleeve, etc., and only the most curmudgeonly soul dare resist its charms. True, there’s filler: “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire” comes to mind, as do the various instrumental interludes which are pretty enough but also feel rather redundant. However, they are overshadowed by the album’s many high points, which include “Midnight City”, which blows the roof off with its blazing sax solo; “Reunion” and “Steve McQueen”, which are glorious bits of electro-shoegazer pop; and “Claudia Lewis”, which puts a smile on my face every time that slap bass comes thumping along.

Sam Billen

I’ve written about Sam Billen’s wonderful pop music before, and I hope you’ve taken the time to check it out since then. If you haven’t, then stop what you’re doing right now and give a listen to A Word of Encouragement, Billen’s free Christmas album from last year. Billen is gearing up to release another Christmas album this year, titled A Light Goes On, and he needs your help. Billen is working with a group of musicians and artists — including Half-Handed Cloud, Ghosty, Beau Jennings, Chi Hiu Yim, and Danny Gibson — to create a multimedia project for the holidays, and to help fund the project, he’s set up a Kickstarter campaign. The funds will go to pay for the flash drives that Billen will use to help spread the project, with any leftover funds being donated to water.org.

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  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Totally on board with the Billen Christmas fund. I had no idea he did Christmas music! This is huge!