By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
10,000 Hz Legend
REMEMBER YOUR HIGH SCHOOL French textbook, heavy with scenarios in which the long-haired, mellow teens were always going to la discothèque? Remember the line drawings of the gangly French lads biking, smoking, and angling for the same jeune fille? Those pages outfitted us with the kind of vocabulary and images that might be used to describe the French retro artists in Air: bon rythme, à la mode, très drôle.
Air's sonic lullabies on their debut Moon Safari and their hip, bubblegum songs on The Virgin Suicides soundtrack became the textbooks for Americans studying the French musique électronique. But considering that the French have never quite taken popular music as seriously as they have Mickey Rourke, there might still be something that is lost in translation when Americans try to understand Air's latest tongue-in-cheek tunes.
On 10,000 HZ Legend, Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel's shared sense of humor--or tolerance for the annoying, depending on how you look at it--is in full bloom. The album opens with "Electronic Performers," which sets digitized beats and a delicate guitar-and-piano theme against a cold, goofy voice that speaks from the soul of the titular musician: "We need to use analog filters to say how we feel." On the next song, a hoarse computer meekly directs the question at the listener, "How Does It Make You Feel?" The silliness would mar the music if one didn't give Air generous conceptual latitude.
But poetic license like this is exactly what 10,000 Hz needs: While Moon Safari felt like light-headed space travel, 10,000 Hz is part travelogue (with Beck guest-starring on "The Vagabond") and part technophilic soul (on "People in the City"). In Air's latest melodies, one can hear Serge Gainsbourg, Kraftwerk, Seventies soft rock, and even Leonard Cohen (the latter surely influenced "Wonder Milky Bitch").
If machines have an emotional language, Air seems to say, it must be one of easy-listening pranks and Moogy sounds. Air contends their songs are written about love...for their equipment, that is. Perhaps if we replaced those lanky textbook figures with Air's robotic singers, we could ask them, How do you say "cheeky bastards" in French?