Why do Euro-electronica acts tease us with albums to which we can get down, only to follow them up with moody, dark albums to which we can't? Massive Attack did it with Mezzanine, the follow-up to Protection. Portishead did it with its self-titled follow-up to Dummy. Tricky, well, who knows where his head was at after Maxinquaye. And now Air. It's almost as if the bands -- tired of dealing with the nuisance that comes with newfound success -- decided that a slight change in sound (read: dark) would shock fans and critics alike.
Air's new album, 10,000 Hz Legend, finds the French duo of Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel picking up where their original score for the Sofia Coppola film The Virgin Suicides left off. The sound? Picture yourself in a Pink Floyd-ish dream state in which your eyes are heavy with sleep. On Air's seductive debut album, Moon Safari, the hipper-than-thou pair relied heavily on Moogs, Rhodes, and sexy vocal distortions. On 10,000 Hz the two reference Kraftwerk and Cream while combining their trademark digital sound with acoustic guitars and a full orchestra.
Godin and Dunckel may have cast aside their infatuation with that '70s retro feel, but they're still very stylish, sarcastic, suave French guys. If Moon Safari was the album for the body, then 10,000 Hz is the album for the mind. Air's new acoustic-electronica fusion works well on tracks such as "Sex Born Poison," which features SuGar and Yumiko of Buffalo Daughter. The more rocking "Radio #1," sounding very much like a reject from a Blur album, is simply cheesy and ridiculous ("If you need some fun/Some good stereo gum/Radio #1"). But moments of delight are more numerous: The ghostly "Radian" features harps and sweeping flutes, while "People in the City" is more pop. On the Kraftwerkian "Electronic Performers," the band pokes fun at the stiffness of the electronic genre. A digital voice sings, "We are the synchronizers.../Machines give me some freedom." Right.
Air worked on its new urban-bohemian sound of folk guitars and computer effects for six months in a Paris studio. The group put the finishing touches on the album in L.A., hooking up with Beck and two members of his band (bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen and keyboardist Roger Joseph Manning Jr.) who played with Air on its last tour. On "The Vagabond," L.A.'s quintessential loser contributes twangy vocals, singing, "I feel loose/I feel haggard/Don't know what I'm looking for/Something true/Something lovely/That will make me feel alive." His laughter fades out the track. The same sentiment could be applied to Air's darker turn.