Pocket Symphony (Astralwerks)
by Tim Den
Just as they followed up their smash hit debut full-length Moon Safari with the left turn of 10,000 Hz Legend, French chillout/electronica/sex music duo Air have followed-up their critically and commercially successful Talkie Walkie with something completely different. Okay, maybe not completely different, as Pocket Symphony disposes of Talkie Walkie‘s ear-friendly pop leanings but retains the minimalist vibe of its two instrumentals, “Mike Mills” and “Alone in Kyoto.” What does that mean? It means that you won’t find anything beat-driven like “Surfing on a Rocket” or “Universal Traveler” here, rather a collection of slow-moving, slowly focusing, slowly-gestating compositions that mirror film orchestration (a fact the album title alludes to). Air have scaled back immensely production and songwriting-wise, constructing Pocket Symphony out of small ideas that inhale and exhale gently, softly, and ever so slightly as to paint delicate, hypnotic sonic pictures. The results are understated dreamy walks in a garden of piano lines, wooden blocks struck with reverb, plucked acoustic guitars, and skeletal electronics, each given ample room to breathe and stand in its own spotlight. The songs are deceptively spacious, but when you realize how each element utilizes the emptiness around it to create tension and mood, Pocket Symphony reveals itself to be an album that uses ingredients sparingly yet intelligently: Nothing is excessive; everything is in just the right proportion. Even the newly acquired Japanese instruments koto and shamisen are blended so well into the proceedings that they never become gimmicks. Oh, and just in case you’re afraid that the guys have forgotten how to write catchy tunes, there’s not a weak vocal line to be found here. The breezy “Left Bank” and “Photograph” are highly addictive, and “One Hell of a Party” (Jarvis Cocker on vocals) and “Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping” (Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy on vocals) are possibly two of Air’s finest ever. While Cocker drips of dark desperation, Hannon’s velvety croon proves that his voice is second to none when it comes to balladeering.
Of course, not everyone will be in the mood to lazily slip under the covers of Pocket Symphony‘s sometimes-sleepy atmospheres, especially those who are looking for a booty-shaking soundtrack. But for those of us who thought “Mike Mills” and “Alone in Tokyo” were the best parts of Talkie Walkie, Air have just given us a wonderful album full of the same.