When last we heard from our gallant Parisian producers Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin (aka Air) they were plying the waters in the channel between soft-focus downer pop and eclectic, atmospheric electro experimentalism in the service of Sofia Coppola’s Virgin Suicides soundtrack. Those are dangerous waters and, to their credit, Air managed to keep the ship steady despite the dubious aesthetic temptations on either coast. Their latest, er, ship-to-shore message (OK, that metaphor ends now), 10,000 Hz Legend, finds the boys a little lost in the murk.
Sure, sure, 10cc put out a couple pretty good albums and everyone likes to trip out to the laser light show now and again, but that’s no reason for Air to subject their loyal fans to such sexless ephemera. To its credit, Air has laid an apparent new course out of the electronica ghetto for itself by teaming up with such high-minded popsters as Beck and Jason Falkner (both of whom add vocals here). Further, the album may be laced with effects and synthesized atmospheres, but it’s mostly populated by humans (bummed-out humans, sure, but humans) and the sounds are those signifying warm acoustic ones. But, as evidenced clearly by “The Vagabond,” Beck is a blessing and a curse. The song sounds mostly like a lightly remixed Beck track.
Worse still, the shining moments on the album are those on which Air sticks to turf laid out by the duo’s minimalist synth forebears rather than their pop papas.
The argument isn’t one of artifice vs. authenticity. Rather it’s one of spirit vs. style. Air’s best moments come when the duo mixes the two (or four if you throw in the artifice/authentic dynamic for shits and giggles) in thoughtful interplay. On 10,000 Hz Legend, that’s apparent on such wonderful tracks as “Radian,” “Lucky & Unhappy,” “People in the City” and the, er, air-y hum and seashore wash of “Caramel Prisoner.” It’s apparent here that there’s someone working the lasers and reacting to the stoners sitting in the planetarium affected by the synchronicity of light and licks.
The moral here seems to be that Air is still learning how to work outside the vacuum — 10,000 Hz Legend is simultaneously boring as all get out and hypnotizing as a siren’s song.
E-mail Chris Handyside at email@example.com.