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Air - Talkie Walkie

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Artist: Air

Album: Talkie Walkie

Label: Astralwerks

Review date: Feb. 13, 2004

Air are a French, post-modern, electronic art-rock band that defy easy classification and have spent as much of their career honoring their influences as they have challenging them. Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicholas Godin’s debut album, Moon Safari, which was released way back in 1998, has aged gracefully without losing a drop of its elegance or sex appeal. Sophomore effort 10,000 Hz Legend has always been difficult. At its worst, Legend is a vulgar listen, or as the band put it, pornographic. Full of robots, vocoders, and campy electro-gimmickry, it was a brave venture that ultimately set them behind the eight ball. So is Talkie Walkie the redemptive effort their audience has waited for? Yes and no.

The first few sounds of the opening “Venus” are nothing new or different – a bass drum played in time with a piano played as if it were a bass drum, an acoustic guitar floating somewhere in the ether, and handclaps on every second beat. Reverb and echo everywhere. The melody falls into minor and lifts into major and falls again. “You could be from Venus. I could be from Mars,” sings a French space traveler back from the future to show us what love sounds like when the Bordeaux has run out and synthesizers are your only remaining intoxicant. The song marches through the paces with its head high and the band’s niche talent on display. It is a warm and psychedelic four minutes.

On “Run,” the album’s most haunting moment and realized song, we also have the perfect marriage of band and producer. Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck, Travis) unleashes a series of blips and the glitches while Air do what they do best – taking on vocals and laying down a strung out synth-line. Bells fall like little electric rain drops while the coolest shaker effect you’ve ever heard fills in the gaps. The song builds to a intense peak…then suddenly stops, but for a vocal loop saying the word “run-run-run” ad infinitum. And from nowhere appears a thousand diamond-studded sirens. The song starts under water and ends amidst clouds.

Godrich’s influence can also be felt on “Mike Mills,” one of the only two instrumental tracks on the album (both of which were written for films). The song moves with a swift pace, lifting softly and lilting gently into a guitar, piano, synth combination. It’s a lovely song that ushers in the album’s shortcomings, starting with “Surfing On A Rocket.” A bland song whose bright guitars and bouncing beat give hope, but can’t help an uninspired chorus. Then the ominous “Another Day” which starts slowly and interestingly enough, but at just over three minutes still manages to drag its feet. “Alpha Beta Gaga” features whistling…and lots of it. There’s also a banjo, some strings, an electronic chorus in the background, and a foot-tapping beat. It sounds perfect in a Swedish car commercial.

The album closes with the delicate and wistful “Alone In Kyoto” which was also featured in Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation. Air also recorded the soundtrack for her first feature The Virgin Suicides, often regarded as the duo’s best effort, and “Alone In Kyoto” is on par with the best that score had to offer. A graceful closer.

By Daniel Ryan

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