Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

Air -- Talkie Walkie
Astralwerks; 2004

If you took a photo album and shook it of its contents -- the important occasions captured on chemically developed pieces of paper -- you would have Talkie Walkie. If you thumbed through a diary or journal and tore out the pages -- hand-written memories carefully captured by pen-stroke -- you would have Talkie Walkie. If you were to make tape copies of a family's home videos -- hundreds of feet of film of treasured moments -- you would have Talkie Walkie. In a way, the latest album by Air is a collection of joyous moments; a sonic document that exhibits members Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin's love of life.

This might be a bit tough to swallow at first. How could Talkie Walkie, an album of electronic music (not exactly well-renowned for its emotional properties) do so well to portraying these French musicians' joie de vivre? First, we have to think of what this album is not. It's not a collection of hazy lounge songs like Air's debut Moon Safari or a hodgepodge of robotic copulation hymns of later album 10,000 Hz Legend (mercifully).

Instead, Talkie Walkie is an introspective look on love, desire and adventure through an icy cool lens. With famed Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich behind the boards, Air creates soundscapes that call to mind everything from snow-enveloped forests to fireplace lit bedrooms to the streets of Japan.

The instrumentation of Talkie Walkie ranges from relatively simple to lush. "Universal Traveler" is an example of the former, its structure of micro-click drum programming and finger-picked guitar being lapped at by waves of swelling synths. The album's opener, "Venus," hits both ends of the spectrum. Starting with only bass drum, piano, and handclaps, the song expands to a mess of wiggling synths, making it the sweetest dirge I've ever heard.

Some of Talkie Walkie's best tunes are also its most ornate and use Godrich to the extent of his abilities. The instrumental tune "Alpha Beta Gaga" is packed to the gills with instruments, featuring most prominently a banjo, string arrangements, and some very merry whistling. The guitar-led melody of "Cherry Blossom Girl" is beautiful on its own, but becomes sultry by adding a flute's velvet tone and Air's gentle cooing.

In fact, one of the most enrapturing parts of the album is Air's vocals. Opting not to use any guest vocalists, Dunckel and Godin sing like digital angels with thick French accents. Oftentimes the duo's blissful vocals emulate a shoegaze-style of singing pioneered by My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain; with whom their track "Alone in Kyoto" shares space on the Lost in Translation soundtrack.

Despite the groups' heavenly vocals, the topics that Air muses about aren't entirely saccharine. On "Run," the guys lament in broken English about missing their significant others and hating to see them leave. The excellent "Cherry Blossom Girl" is about loving someone from afar because of an overwhelming shyness. And while "Surfing on a Rocket" seems like a happy-go-lucky tune, the lyrics "No one can stop me to go / You'll never see me again," allude to doing what you have to do, even if it means encountering unpleasantries. These instances are a part of life, too, just like love and desire, and have to be loved equally.

Talkie Walkie is a prominent milestone in Air's career; an album that combines the splendor of Moon Safari with a sense of emotion that is often devoid in electronic music. The duo has made something incredibly personal with Talkie Walkie, a sort of musical list of reasons that Dunckel and Godin get up every morning. As the warm piano line of "Alone in Kyoto," the album's final track plays out, it all becomes clear: life -- or at least as Air sees it -- is beautiful.

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