Monday, April 14, 2008
Talkie Walkie - Air (SCQ Spring 2008)
SCQ Rating: 87%
If the star-gazing Moon Safari and romantically androgenous 10000hz To Legend left listeners confused over who Air were, dew-eyed dreamers or electronic misfits, their third proper full-length proves they’re the former. Mixed and co-produced by the one and only Nigel Godrich, Talkie Walkie is a bedroom record of the highest order; a collection of love letters never sent because writers (Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin) can’t be bothered to toss their bedsheets for stamps.
The album opens with the dirge-slow ‘Venus’, a deliberate piano repetition with distant hand-claps that rises into a synth-driven haze. It’s a serious statement of forlorn love that turns on its head for ‘Cherry Blossom Girl’ where its acoustic-led sweetness shows a more positive outlook – even if that sought-after love is no closer to reality. How these songs interact on a musical and thematic level is indicative of all ten tracks here, as these compositions react to each other like a smoothly executed chemistry experiment; where the theme of longing fluctuates on mood, this sequence retorts by leaning on organic or electronic treatment. The glimmering digital tricks pulled on ‘Run’, a sensational chime-stitched production of seamless beauty, fade into the unplugged allure of ‘Universal Traveler’, etc. Due to the wide range of instrumentation – that, and this being some of Air’s finest songwriting ever - Talkie Walkie is continually fresh and enjoyable listening, with just enough mood to avert becoming too sweet.
Although vocals (all belonging to the two Frenchmen, for the first time) are incorporated into the majority of this material, Dunckel and Godin implement some significant instrumentals to strengthen the sequencing. Both halves of Talkie Walkie are clearly marked by cinematic instrumentals (‘Mike Mills’ and the Lost in Translation approved ‘Alone in Kyoto’, respectively) that reinforce and showcase the band’s aptitude for complex arrangements. After the monotonous lumbering of ‘Another Day’ (the only dreary song here), Air present their most contagious song yet in ‘Alpha Beta Gaga’, a whistle-led hook that is assisted by strings, banjo, and warped synth. After nearly a full record of self-imposed isolation, ‘Alpha Beta Gaga’ is the happy-go-lucky soundtrack of a love attained; an emotional release that finds its serious partner in the pillow-soft, banjo-plucked ‘Biological’. Although Air’s lyrics certainly appeal to lonely pedestrians searching for companionship, Talkie Walkie is a record best-suited for lovers to share.
After the rollercoaster of their first two albums, which saw the band praised as electronic leaders then later scorned for their adventurousness, I find it interesting that Limited Editions of this album come attached with a DVD of live performance material borrowing heavily from their earlier days of critical success. Why Astralwerks would feel the need to remind us of the Moon Safari-era is no mystery – a lot was riding on Air for this album – but after hearing Talkie Walkie, the DVD feels like a cautious step backwards; the only lapse in confidence this record possesses.