As their band name suggests, Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel of AIR are known for creating dreamy, ambient electronica mixed with a ’70s psychedelic edge that have earned them critical acclaim ever since the mid ’90s. With the anticipated release of their latest LP, “Le Voyage Dans La Lune,” this past Tuesday, the French duo is still in solid shape and able to draw in listeners with their atmospheric vibe.
AIR is no stranger to scoring films, and they do it distinctively well. Like they have done for Sofia Coppola’s 2001 film “The Virgin Suicides” (along with other music contributions to the director), Godin and Dunckel were asked to create a soundtrack for the newly restored Georges Melies 1902 film of the same name, “Le Voyage Dans La Lune” (aka “A Trip to the Moon”). Although I have never seen the iconic silent film, each track (and their appropriate titles) is dynamic enough that I can conjure up my own scenes and appreciate the album on its own; simply put, “Le Voyage Dans La Lune” made me feel like I was indeed taking an adventurous “trip to the moon.”
By itself, “Le Voyage” is a cleanly executed album. But in comparison to their older albums, it wasn’t anything new from AIR that really blew me away. A few older tracks like “Cherry Blossom Girl,” “Alone in Kyoto” and “Playground Love” (my all-time favorite AIR song) have that extra magical oomph that still make me want to listen to them on a regular basis — something I didn’t sense too strongly with “Le Voyage.”
Even if “Le Voyage” doesn’t stand out as much to previous AIR albums, it surely isn’t a dull listening experience. “Astronomic Club” begins the “voyage” with a James Bond-esque vibe. A heavy, steady syncopated drumbeat gets layered with a complementary mixture of voice recordings, sustained guitar chords and random sound effects as the song progresses and slowly fades into the next track, “Seven Stars.” Dreamy piano chords and wistful vocals from Beach House’s Victoria Legrand contrast nicely against a racing drumbeat in the background.
After a 34-second piano interlude, the album switches gears with the psychedelic “Parade.” Catchy guitar riffs and AIR’s trademark synths are put to great use here, making this my most listened to track on “Le Voyage.” After three mellower songs, “Parade” gives that much-needed punch of energy to ensure your attention doesn’t drift too far away.
The tone for the remainder of “Le Voyage” frequently changes from upbeat and psychedelic to mellow and meditative. But AIR knows how to thread together each song to tell a cohesive tale. “Sonic Armada” sounds like what I literally described as what R2-D2 would sound like if he sang, whereas the introspective yet ominous “Who Am I Now?” features Au Revoir Simone creepily “singing” timeless existential questions in French and English.
Similar to “Parade,” “Cosmic Trip” is another catchy favorite with a twinkling rhythm that made me feel like I was soaring through a million stars at lightning speed. After “Homme Lune,” another teasing interlude, the album suddenly ends with “Lava.” Starting with a quiet, nostalgic beginning and then progressing into an explosion of noise, this last track balances the energetic and pensive aspects of the entire album. But I’ll admit that “Le Voyage” could’ve included another track or two.
For longtime fans of AIR, “Le Voyage” may need a few spins. Nonetheless, AIR remains true to the polished, ethereal quality of their music in their latest release, and as a result, they tell a mystical aeronautical tale that any listener can appreciate.
Rating: 4 out of 5