Air | Pocket Symphony (Astralwerks)

cd_airPocket Symphony is eminently listenable, as long as you're not expecting to rock out or looking for retreads of "Moon Safari."

 

 

 

 

It's a perplexing thing, really. A band comes along and puts out a cool, cutting-edge, internationally acclaimed album (as Air did with Moon Safari in the late ‘90s), reveals an increasing predilection for film music, and tries to avoid repetition on subsequent albums, but somehow falls out of favor with the mainstream press in the process. What's with the snide dismissals of this new Air offering in some quarters, anyway? Why, when a band simply gets comfortable with their chosen aesthetic and chooses to emphasize certain stylistic elements (a yearning, melancholy romanticism; cinema-flavored instrumentals) over others (bouncy electro pop, sexy grooves), does it blind some listeners to their evolving musicality?

Well, not this listener; I find Pocket Symphony to be a charming, soothing piece of work from start to finish. JB Dunckel and Nicolas Godin, the duo extraordinAIRe behind the 12 tracks here, have a love of texture and languorous soundscapes that may not propel electro-pop forward the way Safari did, but why does it need to? Isn't it enough to just make absorbing music? Yes, the disc is heavy on instrumentals—but "Space Maker," "Lost Message" (a romantically nostalgic piece that showcases the "memory moog" very nicely), and "Night Sight" are richly atmospheric instrumentals—emotionally stirring, beautifully played—and they're bound to turn up in an actual film some day, maybe something by Sofia Coppola (who was smart enough to hire these guys to score her film The Virgin Suicides a few years ago).

As a sucker for lush film music, I truly admire the fresh approach Air brings to the style. As for the real songs, there are some terrific ones: "Left Bank" is surely one of the finest tracks Air has yet recorded. The combination of fluidly strummed acoustic guitars, softly played synth and, well, airy vocals (Godin taking lead on this one) makes this ode to romantic homesickness a spellbinder. So is the wind chimes-laden "Redhead Girl." If some inventive screenwriter ever decides to do an indie-rock interpretation of the Charlie Brown saga, this could be the perfect tune to represent the round-headed kid's unrequited love for the oblivious little red-haired girl: "When the redhead girl goes by/ The course of time stands still/ When the redhead girl goes by, goes by, goes by." There's a repeating two-note interval played on an uncertain keyboard here that truly brings to mind the sensation of anxiously waiting for something important to happen. Coupled with the haunting wind chimes, it makes for a gripping listen.

And "Napalm Love," in which Dunckel's voice sounds deeply feminized, is also very pleasing. One thing that makes the pure sound of this record special is the presence of Nigel Godrich as co-producer. Godrich is an aural wizard, and just about any record he appears on (Radiohead, Beck, Travis, Paul McCartney) gains in textural richness.

Bottom line: Pocket Symphony is eminently listenable, as long as you're not expecting to rock out or looking for retreads of "Moon Safari." Air have a European sensibility and a romantic, contemplative approach to recording. They're more of a soft breeze than a gust of swirling poptronica, but in today's overheated music marketplace, that's far more quietly refreshing. B+ | Kevin Renick

RIYL: High Llamas, Sofia Coppola's taste in film music

-Kevin Renick

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