This may sound a little churlish, but it was becoming a worry that Air were settling in to something of a familiar groove. Their 2009 album Love 2, while keeping the high standard that has characterised their work since Moon Safari appeared in 1998, felt like a retreading of old ground, the chill out tracks very nicely done but not really offering anything new.
It is, then, if you’ll pardon the pun, a breath of fresh Air that we see on Le Voyage Dans La Lune – and perhaps no coincidence that it occurs with a lunar title once again. The half hour score is a soundtrack written by the duo to accompany Georges Méliès’ 16-minute film from 1902, based on lunar novels by Jules Verne and H.G.Wells.
It’s clear this project appealed to Air hugely, and it’s good to note them exploring an unhinged, almost psychedelic persona through a lot of the journey. Seven Stars may be the obvious single, sounding as it does like a riff from the David Gray song This Year’s Love, but the rolling drums and twinkling electronics are rather different. “How long will it take you to reach the stars?” asks the beautifully floaty voice of Beach House‘s Victoria Legrand.
The moments of relative abandon are completely refreshing. Sonic Armada, for instance, begins with what sounds like a particularly painful tooth extraction, the synthesizers becoming very active, while Parade jumps from one riff to another, the tempo ramped up for some drum and keyboard fills that suggest Air are about to rock. These moments of ‘wig out’ mean that when the chill out stuff appears it’s easier to appreciate. Moon Fever is a gorgeously muffled piece of musical texture and on headphones gives out the feeling of being wrapped up in a thick duvet. Décollage moves between the two camps, starting out initially as a track to lie horizontal with but as the piano line emerges it becomes more energetic and urgent.
The voyage is not a wholly successful one, due in part to its short length which makes it more lengthy EP than full length album, but there’s also an occasional lack of musical focus, as if the pair have been operating on short attention spans. It does however prove very easy to put the music on repeat play, especially when it is possible to pair it with a digital version of the restored, colourised film.
What is most encouraging about Le Voyage Dans La Lune is the suggestion that Air are ready to explore other areas of their musical personalities, putting down the lava lamps for something far more energetic but still equally cosmic. It bodes well for future releases from the pair.