Posts Tagged ‘air’

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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.

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Air – Talkie Walkie

July 18, 2006


I have been experiencing a real dreaming issue lately. Most of the time, at least during the school year, I wake up to the sound of my alarm clock and I feel as if the last two minutes of dreaming were much more aware, like I was waiting for something. Maybe I have an internal clock for that kind of thing, or maybe it just seems more vivid because it is right before I wake up. But in any case, I wake up and feel like crap, but I walk it off on my way to the shower and I try to recap back into reality after I check for centipedes in the tub. Right now it’s summer, and I no longer wake up on a schedule, or take a shower on a schedule or what have you. So I end up just gradually waking up and feeling like crap for about ten minutes. I’m told that people actually have good dreams, but I’m hard pressed to believe it. For a while I was very interested in something called “lucid dreaming,” where you are aware of when you are asleep and you can end up controlling your dreams to the point where they are vivid and extremely enjoyable. I gave up on that after realizing that dreaming makes me feel like crap now, so why should it change if I know I’m in a dream?

So the best thing I can do for myself these days is just close my eyes and daydream. And I mean really daydream. Not just some brief thoughts about what you are going to do a few hours from now. I mean a specific image of some place that is far away from where you are, or maybe even non-existant, where the things of dreams actually happen. Where things actually work out the way they do in the movies, and where life is fair. Those are the best kinds of daydreams that can make an otherwise boring train ride just fantastic. And the best environment to daydream in is with music. That way you have a much better basis to daydream off of, other than just the hum of an air conditioner or the sound of passing cars. My problem is that I don’t have a decent pair of headphones, so I’m stuck with uncomfortable ears to daydream with. Not good.

Anyway, this is the kind of album that I really wish I could hear in my dreams, as opposed to yells, screams, and the hum of insects and all that other bull. It’s just a very satisfying and surreal listen, and I really need this kind of album every once and a while. I’m told that it is sort of the halfway point between Moon Safari and Air’s second album, but it seems to also be the concensus that Moon Safari is ingenious and the second album is bad. I bought Moon Safari not too long ago, and it’s pretty good. But in my opinion, it’s a little gimmicky. There are some songs I like on it, but the ones like Sexy Boy and Kelly Watch The Stars just don’t stick with me in any ways other than being clever in using some cool sound effects that you can hear utilized well elsewhere. I think this is just miles above Moon Safari, in that it is more tame and less spacey, and with that more specific in what it is trying to relay. You would think that Moon Safari would be the better dreaming music, and maybe some of it is, but I don’t like my dreams to be open ended. I almost never remember them, but when I do, I want the images and feelings to be very precise and very memorable. While Moon Safari sort of lets the mind run free, it doesn’t do too much to stimulate it.

What kind of image are the artists trying to convey with this album? I have a nagging suspicion that it has something to do with Japan, judging by the names “Cherry Blossom Girl” and “Alone In Kyoto.” But even then, this is just a guess. The entire album is dreamy enough so that you could make an arguement that individual songs are meant to take place elsewhere, like, say, on a rocket. But Japan isn’t a bad place for daydreams. It’s foreign, it’s weird, it’s far away. Then again, I have always wanted to go there anyway. That’s a nerd thing, by the way. It’s sort of a phoenomenon that no one can explain, but if you are a nerd, you have some nagging desire to go to Japan for various reasons which I will not list here.

The album starts off on a good note, sort of a middle ground between positive and negative with Venus. The piano and clapping make for very good songwriting and a lot of creativity. This is ambient music, there is no doubt about it, but the typical ambient music or intelligent techno is usually refrained to samples and synthesizers, so this is a good example of a band that feels that it should not be restricted, and be more creative or even playful with it’s presentation. This is sort of the blueprint for the rest of the album, most of which is relaxing electronica.

You need to keep in mind that this is a french band. That’s not bad, not bad at all. In fact, it shouldn’t matter at all what the nationality of the band is at all. But when people hear “French,” especially a lot of Americans in the midwest and bible belt, they get the wrong ideas. The words that might come to mind to them are grossly unfair and a little silly when you think about it. “Surrender,” “cheese,” “seaside chateau” (well, that one’s a good one), etc. Theres nothing wrong with the fact that Air is a French band other than the fact that they might get some eyebrows raised at the fact, because you don’t think about French bands too much. These guys are very talented, but I’m of course going to get a little annoyed when I hear more of a “surfing on a wrocket” as opposed to “surfing on a rocket.” Or “you will loove it anyway.” But that’s something you gotta get over. I wouldn’t have even minded if the band spoke in their native tongue, because French is quite possibly the most beautiful and elegant language there is. It’s sort of the Rammstein complex. When you hear Till Lindemann singing in English, it’s just not as badass.

Anyway, that’s just me nitpicking, and I do that a lot. Most of the songs here are really good. Surfing on a Rocket is actually a great song, and it really has great image potential too. I’m thinking of what the song title says, sort of at night hovering not too far above some big city like Tokyo or Bangkok or Los Angeles or something. Cherry Blossom Girl is the song that stands out to me the most on this album though. While the song stays comfortably ambient, it is also melodic and sophisticated enough to keep from being too soul-less, like many songs on Moon Safari were. Yes, they sounded wonderful and happy, but they didn’t really have any personality. This is a lovely song, and I won’t deny that the accents in the vocals actually do help out here. The smooth, romantic call “Chelry Bloosum Gerl” is lovely, and the better side of the accent issue. Once again, the Japan image is coming to me with lots of blurred lights in high definition.

This is atmosphere music, there’s no doubt about that. Many of the tracks are not that strong when you look at them as a whole, but you could easily inject them into the soundtrack of a movie in various places, and the great thing about this album is that it covers a lot of ground, so much that it probably could be a feature film soundtrack. The ambience is present in every track, but in different places. The ending track, Alone In Kyoto, is one of the disks more powerful endeavors, and it was used in the fantastic film Lost In Translation, one of my favorite movies ever. But once again, lots of the tracks are much more specific in their mood and still end up being joys to listen to. Universal Traveler is one of these such tracks, and with it’s completely relaxed post-modern tinge, it is the perfect backdrop for a bus ride on it’s way out from suburbia, possibly to the city where the happy-go-lucky Alpha Beta Gaga is playing. Seldom does whistling play in so well. You can even HEAR the crowd in the back of this one. The artists do not even spare your immagination on this one, and they pretty much get across what they want to say without any words. That is the mark of truly talented songwriting.

Ambient music is almost always created with a few things in mind. The music should be electronic, it should be relaxing, and it should float along on a wispy foundation of moderninity. This album breaks and follows all of those rules at different points, and yet it ends up being much more interesting to me than bands of much more respect in the genre like, say, Boards of Canada. This album tells me that electronica can be mixed with flat out pop to make something nice. And it also tells me that a wandering mind is fine, but if it wanders in idol grounds, that’s no good. The mind should not necessarilly be tested in it’s free time, but it should be given small samples of different situations in the form of daydreams. It goes without saying that a mind that is just wandering in no particular direction will only wander back to something that the mind has already seen, but if something else is entered in the mix, things can get more interesting and you can actually go somewhere while you are relaxing. In the same way, I like to try out different kinds of foods when I am out to lunch, if nothing else because the typical comfort food like cheeseburgers and fried chicken is also kind of without meaning.

So yeah, it’s not perfect, but it is a compelling listen. And it touches on many different relaxing mindsets that are fun to expand on when you are half asleep. I really wish I could dream the kinds of images that these songs show me, because then sleeping could really be more interesting. But hell, this might be the kind of thing that I really dream, and I just don’t know it. It’s nice to have this combination of dreamy and vivid sounds, and I think that this is an idea that I have scarcely heard touched on so well.