Air "MOON SAFARI" (Virgin, 1998)

Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel were quite successful with their debut album "Moon Safari". Three singles were taken from it and they established themselves pretty fast in the electronica genre. Each of the following albums tried slighty different approaches to their analogue and romantic style. They also produced some music for Sofia Coppola films: They wrote the soundtrack for "The Virgin Suicides" and contributet to that of "Lost In Translation" and "Marie Antoinette". In 2006 the French duo collaborated in the Charlotte Gainsbourg album "5:55". Their latest release was this year's "Pocket Symphony".

LA FEMME D'ARGENT The album starts with rain, as it would suggest you best listen to it on a rainy day at home. Then a smooth beat sneaks into your ears, accompanied by spacy organs. Laid back song consisting of one four chord theme that gets varied throughout the seven minutes runtime. In between some effects, that sound like taken from the original Star Trek series, chirp through the room. After a break a tambourine wants to lead a faster speed, but with handclaps and analogue synthesizer orgies the track marches back into the red plush lounge. 7.0

SEXY BOY Air's biggest hit so far. A crazy vocoder-like second bass line over the original one, as well as an e-guitar carry the chorus. Of course, most outstanding are the French vocals that are so high they sound like sung by a woman. But these are actually Air's voices. Weird lyrics, too. My French is a little rusty, but I think the song is about someone who wants to be as beautiful as a god... (I somewhere read that they prefer to write in English, though, because they don't think they could compete with the French lyricists). The song has great melodies in its sea of analogue organs, too. I had not heard anything quite like that masterpiece before. 9.5

ALL I NEED Another single and one of the two unhasty songs avec Beth Hirsch, who's vocals get the full attention because of the sparing instrumentation (mostly an acoustic guitar and very few synths). The spacy synthesizer effects make sure of the usual Air touch. I like the 303like bass that joins later (according to the booklet it is not a 303, though). Mood-wise this is somewhere between yearning and content. Doesn't make sense? Well, after all this is music and not mathematics... 8.0

KELLY WATCH THE STARS Back to the "Sexy Boy" style with a faster tempo. The snare drum plays the first quarter tone, but the bass provides for the funk. You got your vocoder voice and again these 60s sci fi ray gun effects. Instead of a verse there is a wonderful piano part. Simple main theme that gets loaded with new instruments, but thankfully it never gets overloaded. 6.5

TALISMAN Much noise in the beginning. Is this supposed to be like that? The organ hardly has a chance to stand its ground. Anyway, the song turns out to be another floating instrumental. Little percussions, as compensation they introduce us with the full range of strings that give it something of a film score. Melancholic voyage to the moon. 6.5

REMEMBER Great snare here with an ultra short delay. We are treated again with an analogue wall of organs and strings. The vocals from a voice box sound deliciously weird. Probably the most vivid piece on this album, with an electric guitar and somehow a dash of irony. 7.0

YOU MAKE IT EASY Beth Hirsch again to the acoustic guitar. Sensitively and carefully arranged, but towards the end some strings are added. I could have done without them. Lucky for us they are gone pretty fast. A romantic (or naive?) love piece for after midnight. You can't argue its charm. Air's charm. 7.5

CE MATIN LA Flowers everywhere. Another instrumental piece with gorgeous melodies and even a tuba. Sounds like French movies of the 60s, with young people on bicycles and everlasting sunshine. Easy-going tune that just manages to avoid the sugarcoating. 7.5

NEW STAR IN THE SKY Playing the harmonica. Morricone couldn't have done that better. The vocals are again run through the vocoder and children are sampled. There are not much new ideas here and also the songwriting is not up to par of the album's average. Sounds like a filler to me and the overall five and a half minutes definitely did not do the song any favors. 5.5

LE VOYAGE DE PENELOPE The curtain falls with an instrumental with a surprisingly kicking bass drum. Not that it would speed up the song or take away the album's refreshing laziness. Last chance to mobilize the analogue synthesizer park of the Frenchies. Harmonious farewell theme that builds up more and more. 7.0

[Artwork] Nice watercolor paintings on decent paper, with portraits of the two musicians in rock poses. Fits with the 60s/ 70s style of the music perfectly. Contains lots of information about the songs, as well as lyrics. This is how CD artwork should be. 9.0

Conclusion If you are looking for something that rocks your party, this is not it. "Moon Safari" is your choice rather for the chill out afterwards. It is somewhat oldfashioned with all the Moogs, MS20s and vocoder vocals, but it is also fresh and unique. I actually can't tell if it's the best Air album, because the only other one I know is the second album "10 000Hz Legend", which was a little overlong for my liking. But in any case, Godin and Dunckel are great musicians and composers and always know when to turn the corner if their cuddly soundwalls become too corny. Très sympathique. Overall Rating: 7.36

June 2007