Released in 1998, Air's first album, Moon Safari, was widely dismissed as a new age trifle that couldn't compete with the big beat sound of the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, also on the Astralwerks label. Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin revived the cosmic synthesizer washes pioneered by fellow Frenchman Jean-Michel Jarre but infused them with a robotic detachment that extended to the lyrics and the often heavily processed vocals. At their worst the duo produced make-out Muzak for machines, but they were born for sound-track work, and their contributions to Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation substantially enhanced the melancholy mood of both films. And now that the big beat has run out of gas, it's Air's down-tempo songcraft that looks more likely to endure. The lyrics on their third album, Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks), are still inane roboticisms, only this time they're embedded in organic, multilayered arrangements embellished with strings and woodwinds ("Alpha Beta Gaga"), piano ("Venus"), acoustic guitar ("Alone in Kyoto"), and that sleep-inducing favorite of new age noodlers, the Japanese flute ("Cherry Blossom Girl"). Even at its spaciest, the album is held together by a solid sense of pop. Mosquitos open. Tuesday, April 20, 7:30 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine; 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Crump.