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French Connection

The techno wizardry of hipsters like Air, Daft Punk and Mirwais Ahmadzai (who worked on Madonna’s "Music") has generated international interest in the eclectic Paris school of music.

Air recently released their third studio album "Talkie Walkie," the follow-up to 2001’s overhyped "10,000 Hz Legend." In conjunction with this new release, the duo has hit the road and is currently performing around the country.

Air's Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin grew up in the posh village of Versailles south of Paris. The musicians attended the Conservatoire in Paris where a common friend introduced the two. The Frenchmen quickly developed a friendship, which resulted in the formation of Air.

The band's sleek hybrid of pop and electronica marked the emergence of the so-called "French Touch" movement in the influential and trend-setting London club circuit in the late '90s.

British hipsters were raving the subtle techno beats and stylish arrangements from Air and other electronica artists such as Daft Punk, Etienne de Crécy, Alex Gopher and Stardust ("Music Sounds Better With You").

In 1998, Air's debut album "Moon Safari" was an instant sensation and delivered the two underground hits "Sexy Boy" and "Kelly Watch The Stars."

It did not take long for American electro fans to take notice and create a cult-like "French Touch”" phenomenon stateside.

The two modern-day troubadours hit the sophomore slump in 2001. The group’s dissapointing "10,000 Hz Legend" featured an overwhelming amount of experimentation and incoherent songwriting.

For "Talkie Walkie," Dunckel and Godin teamed up with producer Nigel Godrich (R.E.M, Radiohead, Beck) and string arranger Michel Colombier (Madonna, Prince).

Fans will be thankful that the group has returned to their minimalist roots. The production of "Talkie Walkie" is cleaner and less cluttered with techno tricks. The group even took on most of the album’s vocals without the help of a vocoder.

Much like "Moon Safari," this record balances straightforward lyrics, futuristic electro and instantly infectious pop melodies.

"Cherry Blossom Girl" is one of those melodic synth gems. Jessica Banks' delicate guest vocals create an intimate landscape that is a perfect backdrop for the song’s message of longing and desire.

Equally sublime are the gentle "Mike Mills" and "Universal Traveler" that will sooth every long-haul traveler’s jet lag.

Air includes South Asian-type sitars, hectic street sounds and a hooky whistle on the pseudo-innocent "Alpha Beta Gaga," which started as a recording joke in the studio.

"Biological" is one of those oddly shaped productions that gain appeal after repeated play. The song’s artsy format is matched by lyrics that appear to be taken out of a CSI storyboard, "I need your DNA, your fingerprints, the flesh around your bones."

The album’s atmospheric closing track "Alone In Kyoto" was written at special request from Sofia Coppola and appears in her award-winning movie "Lost in Translation."

"Talkie Walkie" might not push the envelop as their debut "Moon Safari" once did, but Air makes a successful attempt to re-connect with their fans. The group once again demonstrates that electronic music can be enticing on both the dance floor and in the living room

The CD includes a bonus DVD with 35 minutes of live performances that was recorded in summer of 2002. A nice value for those that prefer to purchase the CD instead of seeing their show.

April 20, 2004 in Music Reviews | Permalink

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