Friday, March 9, 2007

78% Nitrogen & 21% Oxygen Equals: AIR...

...and there's also some argon and carbon dioxide in that mixture, but hey, it keeps us alive, right?

I'm sure if I had to write a review on air I'd find something wrong with that, too. It might go something like this: the air in the Rocky Mountains smells sweet and light, whereas New York City air in the summer time smells like liquid garbage and really bad body odor. I'm giving air an overall rating of 88.

Then I'd surely go on to review water and then soil.

But music, that's what I do:

Air- Pocket Symphony (Astralwerks, released 3/6/07)

When a great chef makes a new dish, do they do it because they love the labor that goes into the art of cooking, or do they do it to see their diner's reaction? Like two great cooks, Air's Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin serve up some new fare which can be described as silky and smooth, light and creamy, with just a hint of trip-hop-adelica. But mostly it's flaky and crisp around the edges, let's dive into the center, shall we?

As if there was anything else you'd expect from the masters of the chill out game, (I'll give them that title at least until Portishead gets back to us later this year...) Air comes at you with a subtle variety of textures- those sultry and always sexy female vocals, excellent production values a la Nigel Godrich (the "sixth" member of Radiohead), vocals from Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, new instruments (Godin learned how to play both the koto or Japanese floor harp and the shamisen from a master in Okinawa), and of course all those smooth down-tempo rhythms combined masterfully with sweet pop sensibilities abound over the course of the album.

Since I'm big on comparing artists to themselves (and I've already compared Air to another band already), I'm not going to do that here- you may be wondering where this album stands up in their body of work, and I'm going to leave my opinion out of this review on that subject. It wouldn't be fair to compare this to Moon Safari, (their magnum opus) but then again, it would be fair to compare this to 10,000 Hz Legend (creative doubt?). I'll leave that aside (in a passive-aggressive sort of way) and just get to the meat and potatoes of Pocket Symphony.

It's a more relaxed, hushed album overall, playing very well in the wee hours of the morn after a night out of sensory-overloaded debauchery, serving to center one's mindset in a Zen-like quiesence. Acoustic guitars, Japanese strings, and much less beat heavy than previous contributions, the French duo happens upon a personal and pensive posture- the title implies that you can in fact bring this symphony along in your pocket, a prix fixe for the iPod set.

Highlights of this album include: Mer Du Japon
(en francais), or Sea Of Japan, one of the few songs that relies on driving bass and drum with a mid-song breakdown of wave sounds instead of a bridge, which to me is ironic- instead of going over an actual bridge, you get the sound of what's under it. Maybe I'm digging to hard, but iTunes has informed me that I've listened to this album 7 times in the last three weeks. I live with albums, they bend my psyche and become a part of my collective reality. And in turn I look too hard for the meaning in them.

Space Maker, the opener, picks up exactly where Air left off on Talkie-Walkie- trip-hoppy beats over synth washes and acoustic guitars, with an excellent breakdown: a familiar and comfortable bass and piano line which leads directly into Once Upon A Time, a revolving and steady piano and cymbal hit, and lovely vocals before the drums enter: "I'm a little boy, you'e a little girl, once upon a time..." And Left Bank, another acoustically driven number with no drums, could pass itself off as an Elliott Smith song, and Somewhere Between Waking And Sleeping lends its dreamy melody to a latter-day Nick Drake psych-folk excursion.

The songs are here, the production is remarkable as always, and thematically Pocket Symphony sticks to its intended point, but (here comes the knock) this album will surely only serve in this capacity: the late night, chill-out, let's get ready for bed album. It's not an album I could listen to while driving, not an album for a late-afternoon pick me up. This is Air, and that's pretty much what they do, and do it so well, but how many albums do I need to bring me into slumberland? Where Moon Safari and Premiers Symptomes serve that purpose, I'd rather listen to those than this.

I also said I wasn't going to compare Pocket Symphony to the rest of their back catalog, seeing how this is basically a leitmotif of the sum and scope of Air's body of work, I'm only going to throw down an average score for this album.
Overall rating: 81

Coming Up:
Minus The Bear
Do Make Say Think
LCD Soundsystem

1 comment:

Amorina said...

People should read this.