Air – Pocket Symphony

March 5, 2007

French duo Air have always been a hit or miss band. Don’t mistake that for a love or hate band though. By hit or miss I mean that half the stuff they make is sheer genius and the rest is startlingly mediocre. That’s the way it has been since Moon Safari as far as I’m concerned, and following records The Virgin Suicides Soundtrack and 10000 HZ Legend. All those records are pretty much split down the middle. The record Air released in 2005, Talkie Walkie, broke the chain and ended up being extremely special and only having one or MAYBE two clunkers. I’ve already spoken my mind on that record though. Bottom line, Talkie Walkie was extremely consistent. Air’s new record, Pocket Symphony, does about the same thing that everything before Talkie Walkie did, that is, introduce some great new material to the bands body of work while still producing some crap. It doesn’t really do anything to reinvent the sound, but instead recaps on a lot of the bands previous work. You can hear some Moon Safari, Virgin Suicides, HZ Legend, and even Talkie Walkie in here, for better or worse. That’s good because you get all the great points of those records, but it still has problems. While the strengths are also well absorbed from those records, so are the weaknesses. If you can appreciate Air’s great strengths as well as accept their flaws, this will be a very good record, but still not the bands best or anything that would ever draw new fans in.

The band does try to say something different with Pocket Symphony. And they even do say new things pretty well. They just say them in the same way they have presented their other ideas, so this is more of a record for the fans than the critics. But even the fans will have to recognize that there isn’t necessarily oodles of new fantastic things going on here. As usual, a mood is developed throughout the entire album that carries through. The idea to use airy melodies that was pioneered in Moon Safari is utilized, combined with night time aesthetics of The Virgin Suicides, experimental twists from Legend, and eastern instruments from Talkie Walkie. The result is interesting, and surprisingly enough the flaws aren’t really that effecting, especially if you know Air already.

These mistakes aren’t always major, but they are enough to make an otherwise great song just a little less special. Vocals, for one thing. Vocals have always plagued Air for many reasons, considering that the band has never had a set singer. For whatever reason, these guys are completely oblivious to the fact that they hire people who just can’t sing very well. As a result, two specific songs, One Hell of a Party as well as Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping, are botched pretty badly. It’s possible that One Hell of a Party was just too boring to begin with and was beyond saving before it got killed by this dull vocalist, but it probably could have been saved by a good female singer. Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping could easily have been salvaged if the vocals were just taken out completely and the song was left as a floaty instrumental. That is actually what a lot of the songs on the album are; low key nighttime instrumentals. What is good about this is that Air has always been great with chill out songs. What’s bad is that that’s what they have been doing for a long, long time. They progressed well with Talkie Walkie, but now they’re back to the same stuff they did before. Once again, that’s good because they are great at that stuff, but the critics will be pissed and this won’t draw new fans because it is very toned down.

As a result of this, about half the songs on the album are good but not really memorable. Mayfair Song comes to mind, with it’s cool whimsical sounds, but it moves very slowly and doesn’t really progress to anywhere except when some interesting drones and pianos come in later. This is the perfect example of what this album has to offer, that is, beauty for those who were expecting it. Lost Message and Night Sight do the same things. Pretty much, if you were anticipating this album then you will like almost everything on the CD save the few really bad ones that I mentioned before, but anyone else will find this music dull and pointless.

But the asian instruments are used very well and make this album more interesting. To put it plainly, these guys just like asian shit, and considering Tokyo and Osaka are key cities in the worldwide nightlife scene, it’s not so surprising that the distinctive Japanese night atmosphere is the subject of Air’s desires on this album. Sometimes they end up catching them pretty well, but this is all chill music. There isn’t that much exciting here, and anyone who wants a fun or poppy record should consider going back in the bands discography a few years. The closest Air gets to that kind of music is Mer Du Japon, which literally means Sea of Japan in French, reiterating the whole Japan thing going on here. It is a rather upbeat glowing song that represents the nighttime streets at their most unrealistically tame. Two other solid winners are the opening tracks. Space Maker uses developing soft beats, acoustic guitars, and pianos to build to something special. Once Upon A Time is the first single, and uses some subtle asian instruments and a looped piano melody to do the same type of thing. It works out pretty nicely. Another stick out is Napalm Love, which especially reminds me of 10000 HZ Legend in that it is almost a bit silly in it’s instrumentation.

For Air, this is a good album. It’s not THAT good, but most of it’s problems were kind of inescapable. For it to up the ante on Talkie Walkie would have been near impossible, and not everyone is so keen on everything Air does in the first place so they were probably a bit screwed in that department from the beginning. But they do a good job of making some moody eastern chill out midnight music. The problem with that is that it didn’t all have to be chill out music. Real night life isn’t this toned down or even at all boring, and this album does get kind of boring after a while. The stronger tracks are very strong and the weaker ones completely disposable. Even fans will find listening to this album for the extent of all it’s entirety very testing, and it’s great in small doses. Pocket Symphony is truly a record for the fans, and a respectable addition to the bands catalog for those who know them well enough to understand their limits, and the fact that all of their records complement one another. A keeper, but only just.


  1. I’m not normally an Air listener, but the bookstore I work for has taken to playing them overhead. Why does the song Lost Message sound so familiar? Do you know if it was a theme song to anything…whenever it comes on I want to claw my skin because I can’t name it.
    For some reason I keep think it’s on a some British show…but I could just be making that up.
    Any insight would put me out of my misery.

  2. I actually have no idea. Musically it’s a pretty common progression, octave to fourth, so a million songs could use that same kind of thing. The band in fact uses the same kind of progression on some of their stuff on the Virgin Suicides Soundtrack.

    I’m not British so I wouldn’t know about any TV shows there. Let me know if you do figure it out.

  3. very good

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