Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Air: Moon Safari (1998)



Having never adequately explored any Air LP until this week, I admit wondering a lot to myself now why it took me so long. As documented in this space, I am something of an easy-listening, lounge, and beautiful music diehard -- and in combining Muzak with punk rock ethos, the Versailles duo is conceptual gold to me on a level with the Velvet Underground. This is what I've been wanting to exist for years, and I can't explain why it hadn't found its way to me until now.

No matter. With a smart lushness far beyond master of rock & roll elevator music Eno, who favors a starkness that is a world away from Air's floridly cloudy textures, Moon Safari is irresistible. If it converts so many without a prediliction for electronica or lounge, imagine how special it ends up being for one with a collection of 101 Strings Orchestra and Bert Kaempfert LPs. Air manages to extract a thick essence from the idea of aural atmospheres while piling on towers of percussion and dream-pop as on the hit "Sexy Boy," or offering musical ideas so beyond quibbling as to render any objection to the stuffy background moot, like the appalling snakelike bassline on opener "La Femme d'Argent."

You don't come to this for songs, really; you come to it for something to put on in the bedroom, lights off or dim, to let yourself drift. The Chemical Brothers fan in me digs the Beth Hirsch contributions that vaguely recall the now-untouchable dance classic "Where Do I Begin," which chillingly enough was barely a year old when Moon Safari was issued. The Moby fan digs the clever use of pleasurable samples throughout, a contrast to clip artists who'll use sordid junk to try and craft high art. Of course the Beach Boys fan in me is thrilled that the wicked drum sound from "Do It Again" found its way to something like "Remember."

But the music fan is craziest about "Kelly Watch the Stars," the kind of sonic bliss that usually only a wall of guitars can provide for me -- and when something as detached and cerebral as Beautiful Music generates that sort of reaction, you're in the hands of a couple of masters. But the best track here, for me, is the one that puts Air's debt to '60s lounge music and BM on plainest display. "Ce Matin La" could come directly from a 101 record, only its wry, bachelor party pillow of noise has the subtlest -- but most striking -- hint of sadness and loss, indescribable and vague but unmistakable, that makes the band near-automatic masters of a craft devised for cynical reasons long before they existed.

I have listened to this three times in the last six hours. New addictions are what makes life grand.

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