Air keeps music ethereal


French duo brings accessible electronica of latest album to show at the 9:30 Club


May 03, 2007|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

The weightlessness and all-encompassing feel of the new music makes the band's name more significant.

Air, the electronica French duo of Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin, achieves a nice balance of accessibility and ethereal inventiveness on its latest album, Pocket Symphony.

"In Chinese culture, `air' means the energy of the body," says Dunckel, the available half of Air, which plays Washington's 9:30 Club on Wednesday. "Our music is closer to that. It's more relaxing."

But the album is far from somnolent. Though very atmospheric, Pocket Symphony doesn't sound like the faceless ambient music you hear in chichi spas and restaurants. The album, cinematic in its scope, ripples with varied, shimmering textures that become more revealing with each listen.

"Even if our songs are very ambient, we try to make it interesting," says Dunckel, who last week was playing a date with Godin in San Francisco.

Thematically, the new CD is more melancholic - especially in the middle as the songs darkly romanticize heartbreak and its draining and ultimately purifying effect on the soul. Seductive songs such as "Once Upon a Time" and "Napalm Love" help to illustrate the point.

"The songs come from our experiences, you know," says Dunckel, 37. "When we're disappointed, we like to say it. We're romantics, but love can be really painful."

He and Godin collaborated with Neil Hannon and Jarvis Cocker to give the songs distinct character. Pocket Symphony is perhaps Air's most concise album since Moon Safari, the duo's widely acclaimed 1998 debut.

The new CD crystallizes the best of the musical experiments on the band's previous five albums. The duo's penchant for grandiosity has been tempered. The arrangements, deeply influenced by Far-Eastern classical music, are more fluid than before. The album at times feels almost mystical.

"It's more tuned to the Zen center," Dunckel says of the music. "We wanted a spiritual, Japanese, Zen thing."

Although the album spends much of its time lyrically and sonically pondering love's darker side, by the end the mood lifts. The journey through heartbreak feels dreamlike as the last cut, "Night Sight," fades.

"You pay attention to the downfalls when you've been in love," Dunckel says. "You hope you learn and don't go there again."

Since 1995, Dunckel and Godin, who met as music students at the Conservatoire in Paris, have filtered and fragmented romantic themes through a kaleidoscopic musical scope that feels organic and thoroughly modern at the same time.

Their approach over the years has folded in tricky melodic time signatures (a la classic Burt Bacharach) with densely layered electronica. But with Pocket Symphony, Air has crafted the music and lyrics more tightly.

"A song has to have a soul," Dunckel says. "It has to take you somewhere. We don't feel weight musically."

See Air at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. N.W. in Washington, on Wednesday night at 7. Tickets are $40 through or 800-955-5566.

To hear clips of Air's music, go to

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