I wish there was a less awkward way to put this, seeing as how they secured their legend in large part due to one of hipsterdom’s universally accepted makeout albums, but Air are, at their best, facilitators. Which is to say that the more we get to know Nicolas Godin and Jon Benoit Dunckel, the more their music suffers. 1000 Hz Legend indulged their wildest artistic ideas in an attempt to make anything other than Moon Safari II, and it remains the sort of record beloved only by staunch contrarians who’ll readily admit they haven’t actually listened to it in years. 2004’s luscious, Nigel Godrich-produced Talkie Walkie was half of a great album that revealed their limitations as singer-songwriters, whereas the skeevy come-ons that pervaded Love 2 gave the impression that Air wasn’t even capable of getting back to basics without devolving into self-parody.
“These serious studio nerds are at their most subtle in applying sonic acupuncture.”
On the heels of a pretty barren decade, their sixth album, Le Voyage Dans La Lune was originally conceived as a 16-minute soundtrack to the legendary George Meiles short film of the same name, recently restored and colorized to make its rounds on the festival circuit. Godin and Dunckel claim it to be a fundamental viewing experience of French youth, but during the mid-90s, Americans were catching up to it as well — if the cover seems weirdly familiar, then yes, you have seen the video for Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” which was also directly inspired by Le Voyage.
But beyond the film itself, which is virtually cynicism repellant, Le Voyage Dans La Lune is Air’s best record since Moon Safari, because it puts the duo back to work, literally. Whether it’s Virgin Suicides, Lost In Translation or that one memorable night in your freshman dorm, Air’s music is most resonant when an outside source provides the emotional and visual stimuli and lets Godin and Dunckel worry about getting that Moog to hit a quasar sound just right against that lascivious bassline.
Though it was expanded to a full LP, it’s closer in length to their classic Premieres Symptomes EP, and it’s also their easiest listen since then as well. It’s also their most effortless-sounding, which is just another way of saying these serious studio nerds are at their most subtle in applying sonic acupuncture. Throughout, it’s defined by a sweetness and wonderment that works on a purely elemental level through small gestures, animated without sounding cartoonish — the trampoline-like drums on “Astronomical Club,” the sleepy banjo on “Lava,” the injection of mission control transmissions that cleaves the otherwise beatific “Seven Stars,” these are purely evocative on their own. Likewise, while the puffing synths on “Sonic Armada” and “Parade” have a clear Electric Company vibe, like most of Le Voyage, there’s no chin-stroking appreciation of period kitsch required.
The vocal contributions also work within the idea of Le Voyage of being an embodiment of a certain kind of timeless innocence rather than the era-specific nostalgia or louche carnality Air had previously trafficked in. Though vocals from Beach House’s Victoria Legrand are all but synonymous with a certain kind of bedheaded sex appeal, her soft murmuring throughout the self-explanatory “Cosmic Trip” and “Seven Stars” has an effect of soothing comfort rather than hired sensuality. Likewise, though “Cosmic Trip” and “Who Am I Now?” are both gorgeous in their own right, they’re in stately and very unsexy waltz time. Which is to say that if Moon Safari was indeed baby-making material, Le Voyage is the sort of lullaby both those parents can play for those kids right now. Maybe Air’s renaissance lies in making a different kind of bedroom music.