February 12, 2004

Major Tom, Is That You?

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Sex. Drugs. Rock and roll. None of these can be found on Air’s strange and beautiful new album, Talkie Walkie. But we are talking about Air, of course, the band who brought us the 1998 intergalactic masterpiece Moon Safari (and the less-than- masterpiece follow-up 10,000 Hz. Legend), and they are too cool for such trivialities. Whereas Moon Safari found a way to blend ethereal electronica and pop into one glorious whole, 10,000 Hz. Legend found Jean-Benoit and Nicolas Godin at their most pretentious, trying to push their sound and arrangements to new levels of sophistication while abandoning the melodic genius of their debut. The result was a critical and commercial disappointment. Well, Air is back to try to make things right again; they’ve teamed up with eminent producer Nigel Godrich of Radiohead fame and have advanced calculus written all over their album cover. Clearly Air can talkie the talkie, but can they walkie the walkie? (Sorry).

Air’s dreamy atmospherics and Godrich’s soulfully robotic sound fit together perfectly, with the result being a combination of Safari’s pop sensibilities and Legend’s complexity. Talkie Walkie creates its own original world for the listener — a trip into the sensuality and confusion of space. Air has a way of taking individual musical arrangements that ostensibly have nothing to do with each other and combining them to create songs with multifaceted melodies that take quite a few listens to get down. Fortunately, Air’s former ostentation doesn’t come into play; they let the carefully constructed minimalism of their songs help them reach the stars. Their one major misjudgment is singing most of the songs themselves; their android vocals don’t match the utter soulfulness of the surrounding music. The emotions in their songs would have been even greater had they enlisted help from, say, Sia, who performed the painful and oh-so-human vocals for trip-hoppers Zero 7’s breakthrough hit, “Destiny.”

The album’s pacing is immaculate: just when one song directs you to one emotional place, the next one creates a contrasting mood while still retaining the feel of the former. It is to Godrich’s credit that he is able to mold the cornucopia of seemingly disparate sounds and textures into an amazingly cohesive whole. The Oriental dizziness of “Universal Traveler” is followed up by the graceful “Mike Mills,” a gorgeous and intricate classical instrumental that bears no resemblance to pop whatsoever. Just when your brain begins to hurt from having to absorb the elegant, rich melodies lying within the track, out of nowhere comes the pounding “Surfing on a Rocket” with its Lennonesque melody and vocals.

The album closes with “Alone in Kyoto,” a string-piece that played an integral part in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. The instrumental captures the novel excitement and confusion of Coppola’s characters in the film and is a perfect way to end Talkie Walkie, bringing closure to the ambivalence and nervous energy prevailing throughout the album. Out of nowhere, the song breaks out into a beautiful and heart-wrenching piano piece with waves crashing in the background. These waves continue long after the piece has finished; an ironic and memorable sign of naturalness and life to end the album. Maybe Air isn’t ready to abandon Earth just yet.

and complete a set of tasks. Now chances are likely that you’re under the surveillance of the police cruiser’s convenient dash-mounted camera. But, stay calm. Field sobriety tests include the one-leg stand, the walk-and-turn, and the finger-to-the-nose. For each of these tasks, it’s important that you follow closely the officer’s instructions. As many of us know, it’s hard to stand up — let alone, balance on one leg — when we’re blackout drunk. But these tests are also monitoring your ability to complete two tasks simultaneously. So, while you’re touching your nose, you’ll also be counting backwards. Relax, take a deep breath, try to pull your shit together, and concentrate.

Failed the tests? Bummer. You’re under arrest, buddy. But maintain your composure, don’t go ape-shit. And remember, what you say can and will be used against you. And your trip to the slammer won’t come without its costs: thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees, skyrocketing insurance rates (assuming you’re driving again anytime soon) and possibly suspension from work or school. Shit.

In the end then, maybe waiting for the bus from Collegetown or braving the walk to West Campus isn’t so bad after all. You certainly won’t kill anyone. Or yourself.

Archived article by Jared Wolfe

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