When Air decided to team up with acclaimed producer Nigel Godrich for their fourth proper release, Pocket Symphony, it seemed like a match made in heaven. After all, the last few albums have struggled between a yin and yang of electronic pop and electronic experimentalism, so the choice to enlist the help of a producer who is well versed in exploiting sonic textures is commendable.
To that point, the first thing you’ll notice about Pocket Symphony is how incredible it sounds. Godrich has an enviable gift as a producer for finding delicate colors to paint with on tape, and Air has provided him with a wonderful canvas to work his magic.
The second thing you’ll notice about Pocket Symphony is how positively forgettable it is. While I’m not expecting an Air album to come out and immediately grab me, I still hold the belief that it should contain a few measures that might serve as focal points for me to recognize upon repeated listens. Instead, the listener is treated to a somnambulist soundtrack where each selection is the musical equivalent of counting sheep.
The band tries to return to the same formulas that made their debut, Moon Safari, such a pleasure. The problem is, Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin have gotten older since then, and Pocket Symphony is a reflection of this maturity which makes it hover around Philip Glass‘ soundtrack work instead of the space-pop explorations that made their earlier work worthwhile.
The prior fascinations they demonstrated with analog synths are barely present now, opting instead to favor both traditional piano and modern digital keyboards with the occasional tinkering of Far East instruments. What this does, even over the album’s minimalist approach, is create an environment where you can almost hear the soul of every song escaping through the arrangement’s open spaces.
To be fair, the Japanese instrumentation works well when Air finally decides to up the b.p.m. on “Mer Du Japon,” one of three tracks that actually feel somewhat organic. “Left Bank,” with its gentle acoustic guitar and sweet backing vocal also works, as does “One Hell Of A Party,” a slow breakup song cloaked in a morning-after hangover that’s wonderfully understated by Jarvis Cocker’s vocal performance.
The rest of Pocket Symphony shows Air at their most atmospheric and detached, unable to reach its feng shui potential thanks to the very arrogant notion that it could have been solely achieved through some exotic instruments and clever computer programming. Perhaps some additional time outside of the studio, examining the Eastern culture they’re borrowing from, would have helped warm what is ultimately a very cold and calculated effort. As good as the album sounds, it seems clear that the air in the studio was just as stale as the Air found on Pocket Symphony.
Apr 21, 2007 Richards on Richards (Vancouver, BC)
Apr 22, 2007 Crystal Ballroom (Portland, OR)
Apr 23, 2007 Pantages Theater (Tacoma, WA)
Apr 25, 2007 Nob Hill Masonic Center (San Francisco, CA)
Apr 26, 2007 The Joint (Las Vegas, NV)
Apr 27, 2007 The Marquee (Phoenix, AZ)
Apr 29, 2007 Coachella Festival (Coachella, CA)
May 2, 2007 First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)
May 4, 2007 Riviera Theater (Chicago, IL)
May 5, 2007 Kool Haus (Toronto, ON)
May 6, 2007 Metropolis (Montreal, PQ)
May 8, 2007 Theater Of Living Arts (Philadelphia, PA)
May 9, 2007 9:30 Club (Washington, DC)
May 10, 2007 Theater at Madison Square Garden (New York, NY)