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AIR is two musicians (Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin) who are typically French yet altogether worldly. Many of France’s best musicians have something of this, simultaneously from, yet not of, France. It’s an argument that could be leveled at, say, Jean-Pierre Massiera, one of France’s misunderstood geniuses; Saintly Serge, adored and occasionally reviled; Jacques Dutronc, who in the ’60s had a tiger (and several other wild animals) in his guitar; or Marc Moulin, who was so French he was actually Belgian.
But back to the world of worldly Air and their latest album, Love 2 (released October 2009), with its grand tales of Armageddon and, more important, love. Sly sang, “Sing a simple song,” and these boys know how to load them with meaning. Take their lyrics. You can read what you like into them (and darn it there’s no more fun than doing so), but the truth is the voices are as much about textures and sounds as they are meaning. Just listen to “Love” on their latest album Love 2, in which the single word lyric (“love,” naturally) is used primarily as a brass stab and keyboard motif as much as it is an actual word. As the Tom Tom Club once sang, “Words are stupid, words are fun, words can put you on the run”; or as Nicolas quips, “We can’t do complicated sentences because otherwise we make mistakes all the time.”
So what’s new in the world of Air? Well, the big news this album is they’ve dispensed with producers and, moreover, built their own studio – it’s almost entirely constructed out of analog keyboards, as if you couldn’t tell. The results are stunning. It’s the most homogeneous album they’ve made since the criminally under-loved 10,000 Hz. Legend. Ever the conceptualists, Air wax lyrical about their new lair. “So many different aspects of the studio can suggest different things to you, the doors, the walls, the windows, the street, the architecture.”
They’ve spent most of the past year locked in their newly furbished studio with drummer Joey Waronker, the first time they’ve written an album in such a “jam” style, something that’s evident on rockers like “Be a Bee” or “Do the Joy,” in stark contrast to the minimalist meditations of 2007’s Pocket Symphony, on which drums were barely evident.
After the last album’s speculative approach – dabbling with the delicately ornamental sounds of the East, it was inspired by Japan (the country and band) – Love 2 feels like a cleansing of the palate. “The album,” says Nicolas, “is much more energetic, live and loose.” JB adds, “Well we think it sounds fresh and we wanted everything to be fresh. We didn’t try and take a conscious direction, we just tried to produce something that was alive and had energy.”
Where Love 2 is at its most strident is in the vocal tracks. This time they’ve eschewed guests and stuck to JB’s beguiling reflections and his simple but effective lyricism dealing as it perennially does with the wonderment of woman. “We always see women in a romantic and idealized way,” laughs JB.
“So Light Is Her Footfall” is the perfect embodiment of this, as the woman in question, “an angel,” receives the rapt attention of Air. The song’s title was lifted from Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost and, say the duo, is their vision of England (it’s an England few English people would recognize but is all the greater for it). “Sing Sang Sung,” a tune so preposterously catchy it could start a pandemic, also has echoes of England in its alliterative title (based on the band’s English grammar lessons, you may not be surprised to learn).
“In Heaven’s Light,” driven by a skittering snare pattern, Air’s chiming keyboards take us dangerously near to the sun. Unlike poor Icarus, however, we pull away just in time to save the song and, indeed, love itself. “We wanted to get the feeling of climbing higher and higher into the light but with this sort of melancholy,” asserts JB. Who would disagree?
If these are the sonic confections that Air make unbounded by outside influences, secreted away in their exclusive Parisian studio lair, then we can’t wait to hear further dispatches from Air central. “We’ve moved all of our stuff into Atlas [their studio] so now we can make the sound that we really want to make,” enthuses JB. “It’s like our starship and we are the captains and we can take it wherever we want to.” Permission to take off.
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