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Saturday, October 24, 2009

AIR: The Virgin Suicides


AIR: THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (2000)

1) Playground Love; 2) Clouds Up; 3) Bathroom Girl; 4) Cemetary Party; 5) Dark Messages; 6) The Word 'Hurricane'; 7) Dirty Trip; 8) Highschool Lover; 9) Afternoon Sister; 10) Ghost Song; 11) Empty House; 12) Dead Bodies; 13) Suicide Underground.

The Virgin Suicides, if the reader is in need of a reminder, was Sofia Coppola's first film and to­day is more of a "cult" favourite among movie buffs in comparison to her major success with Lost In Translation — which, the way I see it, was a much better film, but, since its success was "major", and also since it did not concentrate on hot teenage girls, is perhaps less fondly mentio­ned among the hipster crowds. (OK, so Scarlett Johansson was a hot teenage girl, but in Virgin Suicides you had five of them, including Kirsten Dunst, and it was all about wanting and being unable to get laid anyway).

Still, the movie was good enough to go and get depressed to, and a major part of that had to do with the soundtrack. Now it is important to remember that there are two soundtracks, both called The Virgin Suicides: one faithfully reflecting the actual music from the movie, with extra Heart and Todd Rundgren and other inclusions, and one entirely consisting of AIR's contributions, with expanded versions of many themes that are only there in tidbit form in the actual movie. Since Heart and Todd Rundgren are pretty deserving artists on their own, I'd say getting the former ver­sion makes little sense. The latter, however, can easily qualify as not just a mere soundtrack, but as a proper AIR album in its own rights — dressed up as a concept one, at that.

It is more monotonous than Moon Safari; most of the tracks follow the same unhurried, rigid mid-tempo beat which, when well-fed with synthesizers and arrays of other instruments, again gives the impression of traveling — but if on Moon Safari you were given the right to visit all kinds of places, with Virgin Suicides you are hopelessly stuck on an endless Journey Through Dark Forest. The soundscapes are dim and dreary, the keys are minor, and the general mix of smokey-loungey-sax, mystical chimes, Gregorian chanting, and mid-Seventies prog rock à la Pink Floyd and/or Genesis is a great way to lower one's spirits as you understand that you will, in fact, never ever find your way through the forest. Just forget it.

Only one track has vocals: the opener 'Playground Love', sung (or, rather, breathily croaked) by 'Gordon Tracks' (actually — Thomas Mars from the French band Phoenix) in a semi-progressive, semi-"alternative" manner. But it might as well have none — the album needs no vocals, and even the odd bit of voiceover from the movie that pops up every now and then feels distracting from the overall experience. Individually, not all the tracks work, but at least each second one is driven by some fantastic melodic idea, and that idea may be completely unpredictable — it may be a huge electronic Eno-like swoop on 'Dirty Trip', or a McCartney-like piano melody on 'High­school Lover' (a minimalistic instrumental reworking of 'Playground Love'), or a sad funebral organ pattern on 'Empty House'. Speaking of which, it doesn't much feel like an Electronica al­bum: live instruments occupy at least as much space as the synthesizers, and some of the tracks feature sharp, expressive, vivacious drum patterns that are as far removed from the "sci-fi" sheen of the genre as possible.

The Virgin Suicides, in all listings of AIR albums, is never set aside into a special "soundtrack" category, and I applaud this decision. It may be less diverse than Moon Safari, and the nagging voiceovers may remind us that, want it or not, it is a soundtrack, but upon all counts it is simply another excellent impressionistic invention that should please everyone who loves good music by talented artists and the idea of young girls taking their lives so that talented artists can make some good music. Thumbs up without a doubt — along with Magnolia, this is the hardest-hitting "non-soundtrack soundtrack" of the decade.

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