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Even at their most aggressive—and I use the term loosely—Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin, the French duo Air, seem to create music in a sleep-deprived languor. Rooted in analog synths and electric piano, with strings and other "real" instruments filling out the sound, their records feel more like the soundtrack to some 70s LA hot-tub party—quietly hedonistic, all Lucite and pleather—than a product of the post-rave era. Still, appealing as they might be to listen to, they're awfully easy to forget once they're done.
On their new Pockey Symphony (Astralwerks), Air team up with some dynamic guests, including drummer Joey Waronker, African-born flutist Magic Malik, and Afrobeat architect Tony Allen, but the album hits with all the force of a cream pie. The press materials blather on about a strong Eastern influence—Godin dabbles with Japanese instruments like koto and shamisen—but it's little more than window dressing. More successful is their production work on 5:55 (Vice/Because), the new album by singer Charlotte Gainsbourg. Gainsbourg's vocals are just as breathy and ethereal as anything you might find on Air's own recordings, but she brings presence and identity, and the pretty, catchy melodies resonate with repeated listens. This might be the way for Air to go in the future, as they’ve never projected much of a personality on their own.
Air plays Chicago this Friday, April 4, at the Riviera. I wonder if the couple thousand people who show up will leave wondering if they actually attended a concert.