Among the more
pernicious theorems in rock criticism is the one that perpetuates the idea
that music fans of integrity and taste must, by definition, feel deeply
disdainful of middle-of-the-road sounds. MOR is said to be cheesy, corny,
square; it doesn't challenge ethics and mores the way "the great rock
music" of our time does, isn't intellectual enough; it doesn't
Recently, however, such a killjoy attitude
has shown signs of obsolescence among the younger generation of fans, who
are even more deeply ingrained with American-TV crap-culture than the
boomers of yore. A new pop has emerged, one that acknowledges that pop
kitsch is not only what we know about ourselves; it is, to a large degree,
what we are. Not only that, but to entertain fantasies 行 to escape 行 is a
fundamental human need, not a sin.
The album Moon Safari by the French duo Air takes this idea and runs
with it. An addictive blend of every mood contained within '70s TV, film
and pop 行 from Truffaut to blaxploitation to art-rock to Bonanza would hardly cover it 行 it was recorded in the
band's 18th-century farmhouse-studio in Versailles, half an hour by car
from Paris. The studio borders a golf course.
"It's a calm place to make music,"
says guitarist-bassist-keyboardist Nicolas Godin. "When we are there,
we have all the time we want, and we are in the country. It's cool, and
nobody bothers us."
Godin's Air partner is keyboardist J.B.
Dunckel, who is very shy and prefers making pretty music to talking about
why he does it. The pretty music of Moon Safari, because it's so pretty, at this time, is
provocative. The dreaminess of these songs constantly foils attempts to
view them with a knowing smile 行 quite an accomplishment. They've done it
by combining their fondness for '70s culture with painstaking arrangements
and textures that one might associate with the Euro prog-rock school,
though Godin pooh-poohs such an idea. "In fact, we have a problem with
prog, that there is not enough sense of humor. Pink Floyd, which is the
most commercial and mainstream prog-rock band, it's always very
pretentious. But I'm a big fan of Soft Machine, with the drummer
Air's "Sexy Boy" is a catchy ditty
built around pruriently cute vocal lines and a "heavy" yet oddly
blood-drained bass riff; a big hit on the alternative charts the last
several months, it was also the recipient of an entirely useless EP of
remixes by several trendy stars, including
The band's own setting for the song is clever enough, thanks, and proof
that sometimes the things you do the fastest work the best. "We did
the composition and recording and vocals and everything in one
afternoon," says Godin.
Debussy, at one point, began billing himself as "Claude Debussy,
Musicien Fran峚is" 行 it seemed important at around the turn of the
century that French musicians put an identifiably national stamp on their
art. Debussy sounded French 行 subtle, dexterous, emphasis on both tone
color and new structures. Similarly, Air bill themselves as "Air,
French Band." And they do sound very French, though their real
inspiration has been drawn from American television shows of the '60s and
'70s. They take great pride in the fact that their music is about mood, and
"It's not that we don't care about
politics," says Godin, "but, for instance, I am a big fan of John Lennon,
and so 'Imagine,' I don't care about this song, it doesn't talk to me; but
'Jealous Guy,' I feel very close to that. I'm more interested in feelings
than I am in Utopia."
So, rather than sermonize, Air allow their
instruments to convey emotions, often with something wistful, or
mystifying, or chillingly beautiful. It's all pure music, somehow 行 like a
stream of pictures.
Nicolas laughs. "The first thing I do when
I wake up is to watch TV, and the last thing I do before going to bed is
watch TV again. I'm a fan of all the cop shows from the '70s. I'm a big fan
of Mike Post [mainstay composer of dopey '70s TV]. The drummer of Starsky
and Hutch and The Streets of
San Francisco is amazing. And the
clavinet, and the Fender Rhodes. And Charlie's Angels 行 when you are a kid, you are very impressed by
these images." The obvious way to use these images would be to
pastiche them with sarcasm, but on Moon Safari the duo has virtually pur巈d them so finely that
the effect is like an encapsulation of a collective dream, and thus a
comment of sorts on that dream. Why we have such dreams is another story.
Air play (doesn't sample) a variety of old
vintage instruments, like the Fender Rhodes and clavinet, of course, and
acoustic piano, Mini Moog, Mellotron, drum, bass, guitars. A distinctive
touch on several of the songs is their use of the Vocoder, a device that
electronically processes voices, dehumanizes them yet urges us to hear the
person trapped inside the metal box. While Godin and Dunckel were reluctant
to perform their material live, they've finally agreed to tour, with a
six-piece band 行 four of whom play keyboards, not to simulate the sound of Moon
Safari, but to transform it. And when
the tour is over, Godin and Dunckel will head straight for Versailles,
where they'll hole up and dream.
Says Godin, "We prefer to be in the
studio, making music, more than anything else. We like to do closet