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.
A pair of Parisians massaged their way into the musical canon five years ago with the landmark next-millenium soul album. Moon Safari was so affecting because on the brink of Y2K and fears of apocalyptic terror, it provided a window to a gentler, serene vision of what might come once the ball dropped on the old era. Under pressure to match such feats on subsequent releases, Air fell short—leaving romantics everywhere wondering if Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicholas Godin had made their full impact with one album. Each release brought about drastic change, leaving Safari fanatics with perennial Air pocket pickers Zero 7 to fulfill any desires for the group’s old sound. On their latest album the group reverses that pattern—Talkie Walkie returns to what made Safari such a well-received effort.
For the first time, the group has taken vocal duties entirely upon themselves, aiding the consistency on Talkie Walkie‘s ten tracks. On “Venus,” the vocals melt into the song’s background—cavernous gospel drumming very much reminiscent of Doves’ The Last Broadcast masterpiece “Satellites.” On “Venus” and other tracks, notably “Cherry Blossom Girl” and “Biological,” transmissions are sent through a prism, reappearing on the other side in shades of Loveless. Walls of sounds wash over the body in increments like waves from an echolocation device.
Talkie Walkie is as familiar as a favorite blanket, but—with help from Nigel Godrich—Air jars the calm with disorienting noise, such as the delayed keyboard stabs that slice through the verses of “Ran.” The result is something as painfully beautiful as it is frightening and alone. Talkie Walkie is addictive like the feel of soft, new lips. This is for the weak of heart.