[Note: This was a joint review with the Kid Loco album and it has been edited]
The Year 2025. Sleeping fitfully in your ready-to-assemble IKEA home, you're woken in the early hours by movement downstairs. It's only the kids back from the clubs, coming down from their still-illegal MDMA derivatives, flopping out and flossing their brains with a few minutes of Melody FM.
No Carpenters and Burt Bacharach on the airwaves now, though: rather, the future sound of easy listening is end-of-the-last-millennium French techno, the soundtrack of Air that electronically repackages the past in readiness for tomorrow, neo-symphonic bliss-outs for the next Generation Next. For the Jazz Club in space.
Very swish. Speculative fiction over; here, then, is the debut album proper by Air, part of a wave of young Frenchmen making lush, contemplative and largely instrumental music that puts a fresh spin on old moves. For what we're confronted with is the next step on from Stereolab, where 'easy-listening' music (for want of a better term) is appreciated and exploited for its innate value and experimental potential, rather than being couched in irony and celebrated by the kind of wankers whose aesthetic judgment is ruled by kitsch. Music without cocktail connotations, to soothe and transcend.
You can trace much of this emerging scene back to Etienne De Crecy's excellent 'Super Discount' compilation of last year, and see this very Zen school of sound as a parallel movement to Daft Punk's world-beating brutalist disco. Air, after a handful of beautiful singles on Source (collected on the 'Premiers Symptomes' EP), even come with a big push courtesy of the Punk's corporate sponsors, Virgin. That, though, is where the comparisons end. 'Moon Safari' is, nominally, techno, but a kind of techno that's closer in spirit to Brian Wilson and Debussy than Rhythim Is Rhythim and The Chemical Brothers.
These, then, are men specifically Nicholas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel with a sensitive but tenacious grasp of melody, a laid-back disposition and a reckless way with a Vocoder that makes them unafraid of sounding on 'Remember', at least like a digital ELO. Nice.
Occasionally, a more human voice is drafted in to augment their cotton-wool world-view: 'All I Need' and 'You Make It Easy', featuring one Beth Hirsch, are unnervingly pure takes on the kind of comedown folk Beth Orton never quite pulls off; while 'Sexy Boy' is Garbage with the matt black atmosphere replaced by pastel shades (the Shirley Manson-esque heavy breathing is, in fact, provided by a treated Godin and Dunckel).
Eventually, by 'Ce Matin La', they've achieved nirvana a floaty, widescreen and spiritual music that updates The Beach Boys' instrumental odysseys like 'Let's Go Away For A While' and 'The Nearest Faraway Place'. Comparisons don't come much more extravagant.
Over in 2025, the radio's playing 'Talisman' by Air. Dawn's approaching. And, yes, there's a brave new world out there, not incredibly different from the old one. Sometimes it's good to feel reassured. (8/10)