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'Electronic Performers' lifts the curtain on Air 2001, and you soon realise you're not in for an easy Moon Safari-style ride
James Kelleher, 24 May 2001
Three years on from the all-conquering Moon Safari, I've known few albums that have created as much slavering anticipation in so many people as 10,000Hz Legend. The excellent (but flawed) soundtrack to Sofia Coppolla's The Virgin Suicides was served up as an appetising hors d'oeuvre for the Air-starved masses last year, but just how tasty is Benoit & Godin's main course?
Air have always been happy to take on the mantle of assembly line robots gone mad or melancholy, coaxing organic, stellar warmth from cold digital sources as well as deeply unsettling noises from the more traditional ones. 'Electronic Performers' lifts the curtain on Air 2001, and you soon realise you're not in for an easy Moon Safari-style ride. The beats and the tectonic bass would sound at home in an ad for Migralieve, and a sweet piano line is under constant threat from claustrophobic organs and swelling strings – not one for the dinner party circuit, then.
‘How Does It Make You Feel’ taps the same vein of noirish acoustica first showcased on their Virgin Suicides work – whispered computerspeak (a sister to Radiohead's bleaker-than-thou ‘Fitter Happier’ is underlined with haunted vocals and suffocated guitar ambience.
In fact, Radiohead's shadow looms long over much of this album – as fellow grounded astronauts, Air mount a similarly skewed critique of the routine half-life of work and banal consumption. In ‘Lucky & Unhappy’, it’s the modern checklist of "working trends" and "recessed lights" versus "helium dreams" and "venus joy", delusional focus-grouped desire versus genuine imagination with no upper limit, no bottom line. The chorus is unequivocal: "Vote for a freestyle life."
Beck makes his presence heavily felt on 'The Vagabond' – he's in full squealing blues swagger mode, as much of a limelight thief as ever but slotting in remarkably comfortably with the rest of the album.
‘Don't Be Light’ is a definite highpoint, managing to compress about five radically different songs into one gloriously gooey gumball. It starts with a flying saucer orchestra straight off the set of Mars Attacks! and rapidly mutates through Psycho stabs, some stoopid-fresh glam stomping and (wahey! There's Beck again!) finishing off with some hot jew's harp action. This is how all songs will sound in the future, when we have robot hoverdogs that clean your carpet while serving lurid cocktails to your aluminium jumpsuit-wearing dinner guests.
Air-o-philes eager for a return to the emotional grandstanding of their debut might be well advised to look elsewhere (Zero 7’s new album, say), but they'd be missing out on a fiercely intelligent and complexly rewarding album. If you breathe, breathe deeply.