Spin Control

March 11, 2007



Air, "Pocket Symphony" (Astralwerks)

Critic's rating: 3 and a half stars Since Air's much-lauded 1998 debut, "Moon Safari," the French electronic-pop duo of Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel have had a hard time balancing the different elements of their sound. Some critics thought their second album, "10,000 HZ Legend" (2001), went too far toward edgy, experimental soundscapes, while "Talkie Walkie" (2004) was too much of a conventional pop disc to please others, and the tracks they crafted for Sofia Coppola's 2000 film "The Virgin Suicides" were too much like, well, soundtrack music. I enjoyed them all, though I agreed that the pair hadn't recaptured that perfect mix of accessible and inventive -- until now.

Produced by Nigel Godrich (best known for working with Radiohead, but also on board with Air for "10,000 HZ Legend"), "Pocket Symphony" unfolds like a great soundtrack, slowly building suspense and an atmosphere of dread and foreboding with a seamless mix of electronic instruments and acoustic guitar or koto and shamisen, two classical Japanese instruments that Godin spent a year learning how to play. At intervals amid the sonic swirl, the dark clouds part for moments of pure pop bliss, among them some impressive guest turns ("One Hell of a Party" is a prime rumination on ruined romance from Jarvis Cocker of Pulp) and sensuous masterpieces such as "Napalm Love," "Photograph" and "Redhead Girl."

During moments such as these, you realize that Air has once again achieved an unlikely accomplishment -- creating gorgeous ambient music that actually prompts you to hum along.

Jim DeRogatis