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Air is two musicians (Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin) who are typically French yet altogether worldly. Many of France’s best musicians have something of this, simultaneously from yet not of France. It’s an argument that could be levelled at, say, Jean-Pierre Massiera, one of France’s misunderstood geniuses, or Saintly Serge, adored and occasionally reviled, Jacques Dutronc, who in the ‘60s had a tiger (and several other wild animals) in his guitar or Marc Moulin who was so French he was actually Belgian.
But back to the World of worldy Air and their latest album, Love 2, with its grand tales of Armageddon and, more importantly, love. Sly sang, “Sing a simple song” and these boys know how to load them meaning. Take their lyrics. You can read what you like into them (and darn it there’s no more fun than doing so) but the truth is the voices are as much about textures and sounds as they are meaning. Just listen to Love on their latest (best?) album Love 2, in which the single word lyric (“love”, natch) is used primarily as a brass stab and keyboard motif as much as it is an actual word. As the Tom Tom Club once sang, “Words are stupid, words are fun, words can put you on the run”; or as Nicolas quips, “We can’t do complicated sentences because otherwise we make mistakes all the time.”
So what’s new in the world of Air? Well, the big news this album is they’ve dispensed with producers and, moreover, built their own studio – it’s almost entirely constructed out of analogue keyboards, as if you couldn’t tell. The results are stunning. It’s the most homogenous album they’ve made since the criminally underloved 10,000khz. Ever the conceptualists, Air wax lyrical about their new lair. “So many different aspects of the studio can suggest different things to you, the doors, the walls, the windows, the street, the architecture.”
They’ve spent most of the past year locked in their newly furbished studio with drummer Joey Waronker, the first time they’ve written an album in such a ‘jam’ style, something that’s evident on rockers like Be a Bee or Do The Joy, in stark contrast to Pocket Symphony’s minimalist meditations on which drums were barely evident.
After the last album’s speculative approach – dabbling with the delicately ornamental sounds of the east; it was inspired by Japan (the country and band) – Love 2 feels like a cleansing of the palate. “The album,” says Nicolas, “is much more energetic, live and loose.” JB adds, “Well we think it sounds fresh and we wanted everything to be fresh. We didn’t try and take a conscious direction, we just tried to produce something that was alive and had energy.”
Where Love 2 is at its most strident is in the vocal tracks. This time they’ve eschewed guests and stuck to JB’s beguiling reflections and his simple but effective lyricism dealing as it perennially does with the wonderment of woman. “We always see women in a romantic and idealised way”, laughs JB.
So Light Is Her Footfall is the perfect embodiment of this, as the woman in question, “an angel” receives the rapt attention of Air. The song’s title was lifted from Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost and, say the duo, is their vision of England (it’s an England few English people would recognise but is all the greater for it). Sing Sang Sung, a tune so preposterously catchy it could start a pandemic, also has echoes of England in its alliterative title (based on English grammar lessons you may not be surprised to learn).
In Heaven’s Light they have produced the nearest thing to a sure-fire hit (it screams Radio 2 playlist) for years, driven by a snare-heavy attack, its chiming keyboards take you dangerously near to the sun. Unlike poor Icarus, however, we pull away just in time to save the song and, indeed, love itself. “We wanted to get the feeling of climbing higher and higher into the light but with this sort of melancholy,” asserts JB. Who would disagree?
If this is the racket that Air make unbounded by outside influences, secreted away in their exclusive Parisian studio lair, then we can’t wait to hear further dispatches from Air central. “We’ve moved all of our stuff into Atlas [their studio] so now we can make the sound that we really want to make,” enthuses JB. “It’s like our starship and we are the captains of the starship and we can take it wherever we want to.” Permission to take off.
Free Single, ‘Do The Joy’, released 6th July
Single, ‘Sing Sang Sung’, released 24th August
Album, ‘Love 2’, released 5th October