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Saturday, October 31, 2009

AIR: 10,000 Hz Legend

AIR: 10,000 HZ LEGEND (2001)

1) Electronic Performers; 2) How Does It Make You Feel?; 3) Radio #1; 4) The Vagabond; 5) Radian; 6) Lucky And Unhappy; 7) Sex Born Poison; 8) People In The City; 9) Wonder Milky Bitch; 10) Don't Be Light; 11) Caramel Prisoner.

AIR's first proper album of new material since Moon Safari pretty much bombed in the face of the critics. All of a sudden, people were realizing that these French guys weren't really breaking a hell of a lot of new ground — and, in addition to that, they were sort of getting all serious and pretentious, with a progressive attitude on which modern progressive criticism has signed the exclusive lease to Radiohead. And AIR, after all, are no Radiohead. They're French!

However, putting aside the odd neurobiological impulses of modern day criticism, it is still nece­ssary to admit that 10,000 Hz Legend is a different album. It is no longer structured like a jour­ney; it is relatively monolithic, saddled with many more vocal tracks, and, overall, much darker and, in fact, more Electronica-like than Moon Safari. There is still plenty of real instrumental di­versity, but more of the tracks are openly driven by the power of electronic impulses, and echoes of Kraftwerk and their robots keep ringing in the head even in the ensuing silence. It's as if the band suddenly remembered which particular hole they were pigeoned into and decided to play submissive, bringing along the whip and collar.

But it's good clean fun all the same. With a whole squad of guiding angels — everybody from Pink Floyd to Depeche Mode to, yes, Radiohead — behind their backs, AIR still deliver nice moo-sic (-zak?). Since keeping hip is an essential ingredient, they also recruit individual angels-in-the-flesh to spice things up: Jason Falkner, Japanese rockers Buffalo Daughter (!), and even Beck himself all make guest appearances on vocals, and a couple of members of Beck's becking, sorry, backing band offer further support on bass and keyboards.

Results? Nothing groundbreaking, nor do the proceedings sound as lush and dreamy as they used to be. We are moving away from pastures, forests, and oceans to the gloomier and murkier depths of the subconscious, although that move does not truly occur until track five, 'Radian', with its creepy game of hide-and-seek unfurling before our eyes between the electronic loops and the ghostly vocal echoes. Before that, things are unquestionably lighter: we have the Floydian 'How Does It Make You Feel?', acoustic, minimalistic, and quite effective (although I, for one, was quite happy when its annoying breathy vocals were so properly lampooned in its totally unexpected final lines — nice to learn the duo have plenty of self-irony), the al­bum's only "pop-rocker" 'Radio #1', and 'The Vagabond' — a harmonica-led bluesy number which really truly is as much Beck as AIR, and maybe even more Beck than AIR.

Then, with 'Radian', we make the descent... no, not into Hell — Godin and Dunckel are too wim­py to earn the right to build up their own private Hell — but rather into the waiting room where you suffer more from your own insecurities about the future than whatever actual torment may await you in a matter of hours. These other compositions tend to merge in one large lump — one large, highly creative, if not thoroughly highly exciting lump.

Come to think of it, it is easy to understand all the disappointment: people may have been expec­ting AIR to break down one more wall in the back of their minds, and, instead, got one reinsta­ted, as the band made a conscious decision to fall back on already explored ways of music-making. The basic question, however, is: whatever made people expect that AIR could have done some­thing like that? There was nothing particularly groundbreaking about Moon Safari either — ex­cept for, perhaps, just the basic shock of seeing an electronic band bring out acoustic guitars and real strings from time to time. But then they also do it here. There's just a bit more bleeping. I can't say all of it drives my imagination to new, ever more glorious heights, but thumbs up all the same, says the heart, while the brain takes a break.

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