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Artists Condensed: Air, Part Two

I like weird things, but not just any weird thing. The self-conscious, weird-for-its-own-sake art of the world is ironically conventional, less the unusual intrigue of creative people and more the winking conformity of those saying "Aren't we just so strange?" If it weren't for their cool, classic jazz arrangements I might accuse Air of being weird for the sake of weird, but their excursions are just that, occasional journeys into unknown space. When they play with campy electronic sounds and odd vocal manipulations it feels like an alternative way to express the genuine emotion and artistry of their more organic recordings.

Aside from having one of the funniest music videos I've ever seen, "Sexy Boy" was the first Air track after "Playground Love" that really got me hooked. It's a perfect example of the non-genre music Air puts together at least once or twice on every album. I don't know what to call it and I think that's the point. It's electronic but relies heavily on cooing vocals and a cool bass line. It's just such a pleasant song.

Air's electronic art pieces really blossomed on 10,000 Hz Legend. The album was a major departure from their almost solidly jazz-oriented work and it borders on the avant garde as a result. "Electronic Performers" is hazy and a bit menacing, but a beautiful manifesto nonetheless. I'll also never forget the first time I heard "How Does It Make You Feel?". The breathy computer vocals filled the room with nervous laughter and an unsettling unwillingness to talk. That's a unique musical experience.

On the other end of Air's electronic side is its love of cool, at once naive and aloof pop. "Mer de Japon" is a precursor to the jumpy vibrancy of Talkie Walkie and so it really stands out on the dour experimentation of Pocket Symphony.

Talkie Walkie is only slightly less accessible than Love 2, but only because tracks like "Run", "Biological" and "Venus" are little too weird for straight-up pop. Still, it's a gorgeous little electronic record that perfectly captures the feeling of 2004, a slow, trepid waking from a dark, insecure period. A sense of imbalance isn't completely absent from the album, but Air pulls back before things get too strange or abrasive, as in the way the mechanical repetition on "Run" eventually gives way to a soothing vocal pad.

Love 2 is less Air's attempt to capture an even wider audience than it is a sign that modern musical trends have caught up to them. There's a place in the cultural consciousness for an eclectic mix of electronic groove ("Love"), evolved but still seedy rock ("Footfall") and sexy throwbacks to 80's dance music ("Missing the Light of the Day").

  • Jeanne
  • The Way You Look Tonight

Most of Air's B-sides are just remixes of their album singles, but they occasionally get together with other artists or have a loose strand that didn't make it on one of the LP's. These two tracks, the first with the always welcome Francoise Hardy, are two of my favorites that sadly never got to share space with the rest of Air's impressive releases.

 

Air is an interesting bit of musical culture. Nobody sounds like them and maybe nobody else should. As long as Godin and Dunckel keep producing a new record every couple of years, the world will have enough of this incredible sound to get by.