Air

The Virgin Suicides (Astralwerks)

The stateside release of 1998's Moon Safari generated an instant buzz for Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel, the French tandem known as Air . No one had ever heard quite the sort of music they played -- a canny blend of pop melodies and ambient arrangements, spiced by the occasional moody vocal or hip-hop sample. To capitalize on their sudden popularity, Astralwerks, their American label, quickly released a compilation of early singles called Premiers Symptomes.

The band's beguiling sound also came to the attention of Sofia Coppola, Francis' daughter, and she commissioned the disheveled duo to produce the soundtrack for her new film, The Virgin Suicides, based on Jeffrey Eugenides' cult novel about the suicide of five nubile sisters.

The resulting album is a fascinating (if at times monotonous) exercise in suburban noir. "Playground Love" is the record's one true pop single and its most stunning achievement. A richly layered ballad, it meanders a course set by Hugo Ferran's languid saxophone riffs. Gordon Tracks provides a sultry, tranquilized vocal lead, as well as a soft percussive thump. Godin's beloved Moog goes into overdrive on "Clouds Up," a dreamy instrumental that sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Indeed the sonic landscape here is decidedly bleak. Godin and Dunckel fill the remaining 11 songs with an array of fascinating sounds -- swirls of clavinet, celestial chanting, rising swells of strings, creepy voice-overs -- but the melodies tend to plod the same dressed-in-black, minor-key progression. ("Dead Bodies," with its crescendoing clatter and synthesized hurly-burly, is a notable exception.)

Then again, this is a soundtrack. Much of the melodic reiteration is intended to invoke a visual mood. The problem is, without the film to fill in the rest of the picture, The Virgin Suicides quickly starts to feel like background music for an awfully depressing party.

 
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