Ideally, before reading this review, you would have already played Before the Dawn Heals Us at exceedingly high volume on the best speakers you could find. Sure, that would make reading difficult--seeing as how your mind would be blown to bits--but opening track "Moonchild" works much better without knowing that M83's quiet start, full of echoing pianos, rumbling drums and female whispers, transforms into a towering blast of choirs, synthesizers, bass and guitars. The French band's electronic textures, which were already quite lush in past albums but paid too much tribute to Kraftwerk, have gotten an organic boost in Dawn from live drums, bigger guitars and improved production, and the resulting half-natural, half-electronic sound dwarfs similar synth-pop outfits Air and The Notwist. Loud songs benefit from this growth in composition just as much as soft ones, from moments of ear-destroying pop-rock to graceful, instrumental lullabies, while the tension of "Car Chase Terror" and the 10-minute finale, "Lower Your High," find the two extremes meeting perfectly. What's most impressive, though, is how seamlessly M83 has added lyrics and pop songwriting to its otherworldly instrumental formula, and the newfound scope and power make Dawn the first must-own record of 2005.

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