M83’s “Midnight City” – A Music Video Best Enjoyed With Closed Eyes

This track is from the band M83 – a group whose major French forerunners, Air, have also always been another personal favorite. But this post isn’t really about M83, itself, so much as one particular selection and its uniquely undeniable quality: “Midnight City”

It all starts with a grating synthesizer that doesn’t forecast anything pleasing (a harsh staccato “synth” that morphs into a high pitched mechanized staccato “AH OOH OOH AH! AH OOH OOH AH”- with a trippy melody behind it . . . Until they next begin drilling into your eardrums with some serious percussion. This won’t be an easy trip.

The hushed subdued vocals don’t drive at the start . . . Rather they intone, invoke and plead like any good suburban escape fantasy – albeit, possibly on acid or ecstasy . . .

“Waiting in a car

Waiting for a ride in the dark

The night city grows

Look and see her eyes, they glow . . .”

The song jolts you back to attention  . . . AH OOH OOH AH! AH OOH OOH AH!

“Waiting in a car

Waiting for a ride in the dark . . .

Drinking in the lounge

Following the neon signs . . . .”

It sounds like they were pulled through a wormhole from 1985 and received a serious dose of atmospheric darkness during their journey.  Yet that’s when the yearning turns into some surreal form of optimism and joy as we actually arrive at whatever place we needed to discover to finally accomplish all that escaping and transcending . . .

And so the song just punches through – and in a ridiculously spectacular upward spiral . . . AH OOH OOH AH! AH OOH OOH AH! — Then calm restored? Unlikely — But (maybe?) just for just a few bars:

“Waiting for a roar

Looking at the mutating skyline . . .”  (just hear that word “mutating” echoing in your head – damn!)

And where the song once disguised its pull, the initial synthesizer has now evolved into an electric adrenaline pump  . . . The lyrics, simple and guiding, let me screen my own private visualization of escaping suburban wasteland  which, I suppose, is one reason this song works for so well for a movie like Tron, commercials and video games.  “Midnight City” is the perfect soundtrack to accompany a building sense of desperation.  YOUR BUILDING SENSE OF DESPERATION. It doesn’t require its own story.  You, the listener, the reader, WILL provide the narrative. OR RATHER, YOU KNOW YOU ALREADY HAVE…

These guys are 100% in the “smoldering intensity business” – and business is good:

“The city is my church . . .

It wraps me in the sparkling twilight”

Just briefly, the song pauses again – catching its breath – but not for long:

“Waiting in a car

Waiting for the right time

Waiting in a car

Waiting for the right time

Waiting in a car

Waiting for the right time

Waiting in a car

Waiting for the right time . . .”

And as the buildup gets to its peak . . .

“Waiting in a car . . . .

Waiting for a ride in the dark . . .”

Images of children are forced into adult thematics, then twisted in and out, as we witness the grasping of hands in solidarity against a forbidding landscape of raw concrete and steel.

At long-last, M83 fires its silver bullet: A forcefully soul-filled sax solo that would be right at home in early to mid-80’s Brian Ferry, Men At Work or even Clarence Clemons.  It’s a feature so welcome and unexpected – completed with an ultimate payoff, as the sax drifts away leaving you floating somewhere in a sea of confused but deeply satisfying emotion.

Maybe oddly (or maybe not) listening to “Midnight City” NEVER fails to put me in a good mood . . . (But then I am somewhat dark and mysterious – Just sayin’)

PS – While I absolutely like the video and respect its expert direction, this is also one of those songs where the video in my head is even better.  It’s a slower darker story that has a good ending and a relaxed but still uncertain sendoff . . . If possible, I recommend listening to it a few times before watching.

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