For those of you who are threatened by large amounts of text, here's the short take: 10,000 Hz Legend continues in the darker, more mature direction suggested by last year's Virgin Suicides soundtrack. If you're looking for a full-on retread of Moon Safari's analog cheesiness, you're going to be somewhat disappointed. You may now skip to the last paragraph, where I shall make a mildly amusing, if somewhat unsophisticated, comment regarding urination.
Let's be honest: it's been more than three years since Moon Safari. In that time, the "Air sound" circa 1998 has wormed its way into the pop cultural subconscious to an almost Pavlovian extent; it's difficult to hear "La Femme D'Argent", for instance, without thinking about cosmetics. While they've no doubt been pleased to line their pockets with the ensuing cash, it's a safe bet that JD and Nicolas are ready to move on. They haven't abandoned the Moon Safari sound -- its spectre grows more obvious with each listen -- but they're progressing steadily forward, trying new ideas and expanding the scale of their presentation.
10,000 Hz Legend comes from the same dark place as last year's Virgin Suicides soundtrack, but it's a far less harrowing experience. The humor, such as it is, has been restored, resulting in tunes like the opening "Electronic Performers", in which throbbing beats and keyboards back a slowed-down vocorder voice that repeats phrases like "We are the synchronizers. We are electronic performers." A plaintive piano melody gives the song a peculiar emotional heft, while a stirring orchestral string finale offers an absurdly grand finish. It doesn't reveal itself to be a silly song until you think about the message -- an Arling and Cameron-style manifesto delivered with Nyquil-dulled pomposity.
"How Does It Make You Feel" sits in the middle of Air's stylistic gulf -- dark seventies stuff on one side, upbeat squelchy keyboards on the other. "I am feeling very warm right now," the synthesized vocals begin, as an acousic guitar strums in the background. The voice reels off what sounds like a love letter, each word presented in a flat, emotionless tone. Then, with minimal warning, backing vocals swell and the speakers are flooded with a massive ELO/latter-era Pink Floyd-style chorus. It ends quickly, and as the acoustic guitar returns, you're struck by how lonely and sympathetic that synthesized voice sounds. Whoever it is, whatever it is -- for references to "my planet" imply something other than an earthbound lothario with a cancer kazoo -- you want him to be happy.
AIr calls the album's first single, "Radio #1", a joke about radios. Remember, they're French, and they don't always make sense. The song is a swaggering orchestral spectacular that's likely to please all the Moon Safari fans, pairing analog keyboard cheese with seventies glam styling a la Warren Zevon and Roxy Music. If you own stock in Zildjian, you'll love the song's final minute. As midtempo songs go, "Radio #1" is damned addictive, capable of giving "Sexy Boy" a run for its money.
You'll probably have heard that Beck, a copy of Dianetics clutched tightly in hand, provided vocals for "The Vagabond". It's a fairly typical French pop song. More interesting is the exotic, unearthly atmosphere created by "Radian", which evolves gradually into a smoky, sultry seduction tune; imagine, for instance, James Bond struggling through a South American jungle, then stepping out of the undergrowth and onto the back lot of Sister Astrid's Home for Nymphomaniacal Swedish Flight Attendants. "Lucky and Unhappy" offers more swollen keyboard riffs, accompanied by breathy male/female vocals and, eventually, a skittery drum and bass beat. Though it's not supremely innovative, it'll give your subwoofer a good workout.
Is that really the Buffalo Daughter girls on "Sex Born Poison"? Will "People in the City"'s list-like lyrics eventually drive you mad? And will the Jacques Brel on Acid spectacle of "Wonder Milky Bitch" become the centerpiece of your next oral sex-themed mix tape? You'll have to buy the record to find out. I don't think you'll be disappointed. Skipping back and forth through 10,000 Hz Legend as I wrote this review, I was constantly distracted by newly-discovered details. I've listened to the album ten times today and I'm only beginning to mine its depths. It is, like all the best pop music, silly, pointless and thoroughly lacking in high-level intellectual discourse. Thank heaven.
The colleague who was kind enough to procure our advance copy of 10,000 Hz Legend told me that the album's title refers to the sonic freqency at which the human bladder will involuntarily empty itself. It may be an apocryphal reference, and as humor goes it's unexpectedly sophomoric, but it also helps you to keep Air and their work in perspective. They are not gods. They do not aspire to change the world. They've made a thoroughly satisfying record that justifies your excitement, but it's not worth wetting your pants over...assuming, of course, that you have any choice in the matter.