AIR records fascinate me. They always have, how you say, a certain je ne sais quoi about them that makes them eminently enjoyable. “Euro Electronica”, or “Electro Lounge” are two examples of genre boxes critics have seen fit to cram them into, and they’re pretty apt descriptions, too. “Valium Disco” works as well, but being associated with that infamous housewife downer does this band a grave injustice. Minimoogs, Wurlitzers and Rhodes electric pianos, strings and incredibly funky bass have been AIR’s tools of the trade since Moon Safari, their most celebrated, and certainly best, album. But something happened on their way to their second album, 10,000 Hz Legend (not counting, nor discounting, the pretty great soundtrack to 2000’s Virgin Suicides): they became an electronic prog band. This did not sit well with the well coiffed, cappuccino set that bought into the whole ‘space lounge’ tag associated with Moon Safari. It stiffed, but it shouldn’t have, ‘cause it’s great, experimental and deeply, deeply weird. A wonderful album.
But AIR became butt-hurt and decided to give the people what they wanted, rebounded, somewhat, with Talkie Walkie. This is a far more reserved version of Moon Safari, and is AIR’s most calculated release. Of course, by 2004 the sound AIR pioneered had been co-opted into the mainstream and featured by other, lesser bands, in Geico commercials featuring cavemen.
Pocket Symphony, their next effort, was fine and dandy, but didn’t impress me nearly as much as Talkie Walkie did. It made me nervous for their future. Would I need to make room on my top CD shelf for anymore AIR records? It was looking grim, true believers!
When they released Love in 2009 I wasn’t listening and completely blew it off. Then, in very early 2012, I spotted a CD in the new release rack that used the most iconic scene of the man in the moon, from George Melies 1912 Sci-Fi micro-flick La Voyage Dans La Lune. This ticked all the buttons for me and I picked it up immediately. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. I loved it! It was short (a little over 30 minutes), but contained so much atmosphere and imagination that it felt like a double. It remains an album that will take you on a journey. I listen to this more than any other AIR record.
After this I went back and bought LOVE, which has grown in stature as my third favorite AIR release.
Perhaps Retro Futuristic Euro-Soul would be more of an appropriate genre to pin on these guys, I don’t know. All I really know is that AIR are a band in the truest and best sense of the word, that isn’t afraid to take chances. I mean, when was the last time you really looked forward to hearing what direction one of your faves would take with the next record?