AIR: PREMIERS SYMPTÔMES (1999)
1) Modular Mix; 2) Casanova 70; 3) Les Professionnels; 4) J'Ai Dormi Sous L'Eau; 5) Le Soleil Est Près De Moi; 6) Californie; 7) Brakes On.
From a strictly chronological perspective, this disc should have been placed first, since it's basically a collection of AIR's first singles (starting with 1995's 'Modular Mix' and then all the way up to 1998). But this particular edition, reinforced with a couple newer outtakes, dates from 1999, and besides, Moon Safari is such a more comfortable opportunity to start off with, that I am ready to forgive myself this little chronological discrepancy.
The five large, dense mood pieces on here do, indeed, sound like very natural precursors to the pleasures of Safari. They are, however, even more "ambient" than the material from 1998: fewer jarring sounds and tones, softer rhythms, almost no vocals, and thorough stylistic unity. There is no guarantee that you'll seriously love this even if you are a fan of Safari. If the latter was an adventurous journey, where you had to overcome obstacles and alternate periods of tempest and turmoil with periods of rest and repose, then Premiers Symptômes is rather like the "First Stage" of that journey — you know, the first five or six chapters from your average XVIIIth century travelog where nothing much happens and you are simply supposed to get in the mood.
It does call for repeated listens, though, because eventually the hypnotic elevator ambience may dissipate and through it you'll see shades of heavenly loveliness, particularly on the somber, majestic 'Le Soleil Est Près De Moi' and the... uh... somber, majestic 'J'Ai Dormi Sous L'Eau'. It doesn't hurt that they use plenty of different synth tones and non-synth instruments — the warm, gentle chivalry of the French horn on 'Soleil' and the schizo friendliness of the sitar on 'L'Eau' being just a few of the more memorable items.
I am not sure if the whole experience deserves its own album — maybe adding it as five "prelude-like" bonus tracks to Moon Safari would work better — but that does not prevent me from giving it a thumbs up all the same. If all elevator music sounded like this, we'd all be spending much more time in elevators. Not that I'm sure it's such a good idea.