My Launch Review
"Air. There are three letters in it," correctly notes Jean Benoit Dunckel, keyboardist for the French duo with that ether-inspired name. "The 'a,' in French, [stands for] amour, which means love. And the second letter is 'i,' which is imagination, and the third letter is 'r,' and in French this is rève, which means dreaming."
An especially creative fan bestowed this acronym on the band, long after they had taken the Air moniker, though the analysis is quite an apt description of the pair's floaty electronic sound (currently wafting through American airwaves via their hit "Sexy Boy"). Things didn't begin that way, though: Dunckel and co-Airman Nicolas Godin began as two-thirds of an indie-guitar trio called Orange, in which volume was admittedly given precedence over grace ("It was not very charming or clever," acknowledges Dunckel). They left that band with a vow to try something more poetic, and the result was an all-instrumental, organ-drenched project which soon turned into Air.
Once the duo had a bit of music worked out, an American neighbor named Beth Hirsch came by for a listen. "She was an American girl in Paris," explains Dunckel in heavily-accented English. "She was living in Montmartre, near by Nicolas's apartment, so it was very easy to meet each other. And she fell in love with the two tracks that we did." Since the pair had been kicking around the idea of adding vocals anyway, they decided to give Hirsch a try; her sultry voice eventually ended up featured on two songs on Air's Source/ Caroline debut, Moon Safari (though not on the deceiving "Sexy Boy," which actually uses fake-feminine vocals by Dunckel and his vocoder). "She took the test and we had nothing to say," says Dunckel. "It was perfect, and [our music] grew up with her."
What their became is an easy-listening blend of the old, the mid and the new, weaving together groovy guitars, chants and hand claps--and lots and lots of pianos and synths, of course--into a range of lounge-inspired tunes, from the winding robotics of "Sexy Boy" to the concise Bacharach-isms of "Ce Matin La." The pair walk a line between the contemporary and the classic, sounding vaguely like a French New Wave soundtrack but never getting mired in tired retro-cliches. "I think that we are very dreamy guys," explains Dunckel. "So this is sort of imagination music. We like to think that you can walk on the clouds, travel without moving, such things like that. The love feeling is very important for us, too, because that's a universal feeling. We like when the music is timeless and universal."
And Air's music does tend to conjure up images of love in all its forms, from a sweet romantic daydream to a swinging bachelor pad. And Dunckel agrees that, on occasion, they really hit the mark in emulating the vibe of amour. "But we have to make some progress," he notes with a laugh. "We have to love more!"