AIR: LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE (2012)
1) Astronomic Club; 2) Seven Stars; 3) Retour Sur Terre; 4) Parade; 5) Moon Fever; 6) Sonic Armada; 7) Who Am I Now?; 8) Décollage; 9) Cosmic Trip; 10) Homme Lune; 11) Lava.
It is interesting, come to think of it, that none of AIR's albums, up to this point, were straightforwardly «conceptual» (discounting the S. Coppola soundtrack), even if their whole musical strategy seems to have been expressly designed for harboring «concepts». If the decision was intentional on their part, then 2012 is when they finally give in to temptation. Technically, the record was also proclaimed to be a «soundtrack» — but to a movie that was made 110 years ago: George Méliès' landmark A Trip To The Moon, recently brushed off and remastered to the delight of cinephiles around the world. In addition, while the movie itself runs for about 14 minutes in total, the «soundtrack» is more than twice its length — which certainly makes it an independent project (or a serious challenge for all those who want to splice the two works of art together on their own — another brilliant way to kill time).
Comparisons with Moon Safari are inevitable, if only due to the similarity of the ideas expressed in the titles; but the two records are really quite different. Moon Safari just used the title as an exotic mental stimulus, since most of the compositions contained psychedelic, but not necessarily «sci-fi» elements and associations. Le Voyage Dans La Lune is a much more straightforward conceptual recording, and each of its tracks loyally serves the function of illustrating one part of a space journey. The vocals, as it usually happens on old-time AIR albums, are few, mostly consisting of announcements or wordless harmonies; only ʽSeven Starsʼ and ʽWho Am I Nowʼ have vocal melodies, the former delivered by Victoria Legrand of Beach House, the latter by the girls from Au Revoir Simone (an electronic dream-pop trio from Brooklyn) — both of them good, suitable choices, even if the songs themselves are not particularly staggering.
At this point, nobody expects any sort of musical revolution from Dunckel and Godin, but within the limits of their personal fantasy world, Le Voyage might be said to occupy its own particular little corner due to its well-planned coherence. Of the individual tracks, I could single out ʽAstronomic Clubʼ, whose major hook is a buzzing guitar riff with ominous overtones; and ʽMoon Feverʼ, which melds a piano sonata approach with ambient and psychedelic elements (think a joint Beethoven / Brian Eno collaboration with both of them on acid). ʽSeven Starsʼ does sound a lot like prototypical Beach House (that is, indescribable on the individual level once you have described the general manner in which Beach House work), and possibly the otherworldly, cold and detached ʽWho Am I Nowʼ sounds a lot like Au Revoir Simone, even though I have never heard them (yet).
The point, though, is to take all this stuff collectively — not a big deal, since, even with twice the running length of the movie, it still clocks in at just over thirty minutes — and admit that it is all quite imaginative and «moon-worthy». Long-time fans of AIR, in particular, will not be disappointed; on the contrary, those who might have feared the band had «sold out» with its constant movement towards poppier song structures and trendier guest vocalists will be reassured that the band has returned to a slightly more «hardcore» approach, with trippy sound effects, dark electronic grooves, Floydian melancholy, tricky time signatures, and unpredictable collocations (for instance, just what exactly is that absent-minded banjo doing, lost in the middle of the shrill and stern ʽLavaʼ?).
I, personally, would have preferred a balance tipped just a little bit to the side of «hooks» — had they done that, who knows, perhaps this fresh way of conceptual thinking would prompt them into producing another equal of Moon Safari. But even without that, Le Voyage Dans La Lune is a more ambitious project than anything the band has done since working for Coppola, and there is still plenty of inspiration left — thanks, perhaps, to the magical influence of Méliès — to justify that ambition. Hence, thumbs up. Next on the list: a new score for The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, perhaps? That one runs for seventy minutes.
PS. The album is available both on its own and as a CD/DVD combo, the latter part containing the restored colorized version of the movie (not to panick here: colorized after Méliès' own initial design, as he is said to have originally hand-painted each frame himself) accompanied with AIR's soundtrack elements. I do not necessarily recommend going for that version — the movie is well worth watching, of course, but the idea of combining old silent films with modern scores has never thrilled me all that much (with some notable exceptions when the scores incorporate motives and elements appropriate for the time or situation — such as Richard Einhorn's oratorio that accompanies Dreyer's Passion Of Joan Of Arc). Still, it's only three dollars more or something — and you probably get to own a collectible.
Check "Le Voyage Dans La Lune (CD/DVD)" on Amazon