If Androids dream of electric sheep, what does Air dream of? Does the Parisian band float on wistful clouds, pondering deep philosophical questions, or do they just want to get down and dirty with Texan cheerleaders? After listening to their second proper album, "10 000Hz Legend", you'll be forced to conclude that the answer is clearly all of the above. From the road movie wanderlust of "Lucky & Unhappy" or the Beck collaboration "The Vagabond" to the uncut sauce of "Sex Born Poison" or blow job fantasy "Wonder Milky Bitch" ("We like blow jobs!" they enthuse "Doesn't everyone?"), this is a tangerine dream of an album. An unstoppable soft machine pondering everything from the deepest existential questions of life to the joys of sex. It's an album recalling everything from classic seventies rock, to eighties synthesizer experiments while still looking forward to a bright shining digital musical future.
We've been here before of course: when Air released their debut "Moon Safari" in 1998, they changed the way we listened to music forever. Its lush soundscapes of vintage instruments and eternal melodies gave us a whole new musical playroom to romp in, one in which Gainsbourg could record with Bardot, Bacharach and John Barry. One in which the listener could frolic in the waves with the Beach Boys before driving off to see ELO at the Hollywood Bowl.
Since then, of course, Air have kept busy. Two years later, the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola's critically acclaimed film "The Virgin Suicides," with its hit "Playground Love," recast JB and Nicolas as nouveau progressive rockers. They left their studio set in the idyllic Versailles countryside that inspired so much of their early, playfully pastoral music settling in Paris, giving what they freely admit is a more paranoid, urban edge to this new album. They first met and bonded with two members of Beck's band who played live with Nicolas and JB, and then the urban cowboy himself.
They toured America, crisscrossing the country for months in a tour bus, re-living the 70s rock nightmares of so many of their heroes. But while most rock stars would happily lose it smoking groupies and snorting hot dogs, Air says the experience made them feel more like rootless Jack Kerouac beat novel characters. Their incredible Beck collaboration "The Vagabond" was inspired by this homeless, on the road feeling, while the introspective "Luck & Unhappy" recalls pondering the deeper meanings of life as they whiz through LA's deserted nighttime streets. I guess that's what being a band made up of a former architect and teacher will do for you.
Now, with "10 000Hz legend" they've contoured our pop cultural landscape once again, reaching further out for ever more arcane musical and lyrical references. This is still the languid, laid back band that have helped make listening easy once again. But this time they're making music to watch robots go by. "With this album we have done exactly what we wanted to do," Nicolas Godin tells us. "I realize now it is quite deep, but much more complicated than "Moon Safari." But with "Moon Safari" we were like children. This is our first grown up album as men."
In a musical world dominated by the magic-like producer that can turn snippets of disco records into dance floor gold dust or lumpen indie songwriting into radio smashes, '10 000Hz Legend' is truly different. There were no demos, and definitely no re-mixes. What you hear is what they got in the studio. It's not always the first take, but it's as near as damn it. "Whatever felt emotional we kept. It's always the first, real, original version you can hear on the album." enthuses Nicolas.
"Moon Safari," of course, boasted hits like the beautiful bubble gum of "Kelly Watch The Stars" and "Sexy Boy." This time they've collaborated with fellow traveler Beck and dabbled with computers. Right from the space oddity of opener "Electronic Performers," this is a very different band. "It is a love letter to our machines," JB enthuses. "You have to love your machines to know how to use them properly."
"With 'Moon Safari,'" Nicolas adds, "we used a lot of instruments we felt very familiar with, warm sounds like the Rhodes or Moog. Things we knew and were comfortable with. Now we are confident enough to experiment and use the full spectrum of technology available to us." Sourcing everything from digital to acoustic music, the whole album is a far reaching love letter to both technology and musical history. Air's soft machine, is on the move once again.