I spend much of my time listening to music. It seems that sometimes, there aren’t enough hours in the day to hear every album I want to listen to. As a result, sometimes I don’t get a chance to listen to albums I bought years ago. So last week, I thought I’d make some time to listen to some albums from yesteryear. After much pondering, and even more dithering, I decided what albums that I would revisit. They were a cross section of the musical genre’s, covering everything from reggae to rock, and hip-hop to house, taking in folk, funk, soul and dance music. I settled down, and spend far too much time listening to old albums. It was while I was doing this, that I rediscovered this album, one that I hadn’t played for a couple of months. After I’d listened to it, I thought that I would write an article about this album, as it one I really enjoyed when it was first released, and one I revisit from time to time. The album is Moon Safari by Air, which was released in January1998.
Formed in 1995, Air are from Versailles, in France. In the beginning, Nicholas Godin, a former architecture student was the only member of Air. He was later joined by former maths student Jean-Benoit Dunckel. Both had been members of a pevious band Orange, which also included Alex Gopher. Before Dunckel joined, Godin recorded a demo with former members of funk band, Funkadelic.
From what we already know about Air, they are an intelligent duo. This extends to their name. When the group were formed, many people were unaware that Air was backronym, which is a phrase that is formed so that an acronym can be formed. Air’s backronym is Amour, Imagination, Reve, which means love, imagination dream. This intelligence extends to their music, music which people have sought to pigeon hole. So far, they’ve failed to do so, referring to it as electronica.
Various styles of music, and musicians have influenced Air. Listen carefully to their music, and you can hear the influence of Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre and the synthesizer based music they helped popularize. 1960’s psychedelic rock groups like Pink Floyd, and progressive rock bands like Tangerine Dream. The godfathers’ of electronic music, Kraftwerk, have also influenced their sound. Air, like Kraftwerk, use many electronic instruments, but both groups use a vocoder when performing live.
Closer to home two French artists have influenced Air’s music. Space were one of the pioneers of electronic music. Originally from Marseilles, France, they started making electronic music in 1977 until 1980. During this period, they released four albums. They reformed in 1992, and have sold over twelve million albums worldwide during their career. The other French artist to influence Air is the legendary Serge Gainsbourg. He was a singer-songwriter, who between 1958 and his death in 1991, released a wide variety of albums, which cross the musical boundaries. Gainsbourg was never afraid to experiment, and sometimes, this caused him problems. His music has influenced almost two generations musicians, and is as popular today, as it has ever been.
Since forming in 1995, Air have released a number of studio albums. Their debut album was Premiers Symptomes, a collection of singles released by the band between 1995 and 1997. Moon Safari which this article is about, was released in January 1998. The album was well received and a huge commercial success.
Since then, Air have released a film score, The Virgin Suicides, in February 2000. That was followed by 10,000 Hz Legend in May 2001. This was a much different album, longer and much more experimental. A remix of this album Everybody Hertz was released in February 2002. Three further studio albums have been released. Talkie Walkie in January 2004, Pocket Symphony in March 2007 and Love 2 in October 2009. Each of these albums have seen Air’s sound evolve.
Air have worked with other artists, including Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. She is a French singer and actress. Her 2006 album 5.55, was written and performed by Air. 5.55 was well received by critics and was commercially successful. They have also contributed music to films directed by Sofia Coppola, including her debut film The Virgin Suicides. A track by Air featured in her 2006 film, Marie Antoinette.
Having told you about Air’s career, I will now tell you why Moon Safari is such a good album. The album begins with La Femme D’Argent. In the distance water runs, then drums play, quietly at first, then loud and crisp. A keyboard joins the arrangement, forcing it way to the front of the mix. Quickly the sound builds, a melange of sounds, some sharp, some deeply melodic. This is joined by sweeping synths, producing otherworldly sounds. The overall effect is a mixture or retro and futuristic sound. They come together to produce a large soundscape, one that grabs your attentions. It’s impossible to ignore. Air have produced a track that veers between glacial and rhapsodic, and is an impressive start to Moon Safari.
Sexy Boy is a track thats roots’ are firmly in the past. The vocal is sung through a vocoder, the synths sound very old school. They squelch, sweep, squeak and beep throughout the track. Layer upon layer of sound is emitted from your speakers, surrounding, and almost overpowering you. There is sweetness present in the track, saccharine sweet. So sweet is this track, it’s like the biggest sugar rush you can safely experience. The track is hook laden, to say it’s catchy is an understatement. It’s infectious, something you should be inoculated against. A glorious slice of retro-sounding Euro pop.
All I Need is a very different sounding track. Synths reverberate, wobbling like a jelly at a child’s birthday party. Suddenly, they stop. The track then opens out, a guitar plays, a metronome clicks, a synth sneaks a look in again, then Beth Hirsch sings the vocal. This transforms the track, totally. Her voice is strong and clear, perfectly suited to deliver the lyrics. For most of the vocal, a metronome and guitar are her only accompaniment. Later, occasionally, a keyboard flits in and out of the track, and a synth drones, then sweeps. When this happens, it slightly overpowers her vocal. This doesn’t detract from what is a great track.
When I listen to Kelly Watch the Stars, two things come to mind. The first is the soundtrack to a sci-fi movie, the second is the old Heaven 17 track Temptation. When I hear that part of the track towards the start, it sounds like Temptation’s little brother. This repeats during the track. The more I hear it, the more I’m convinced. What Air have ended up with is a sweeping, new wave influenced track, with more than a little influence from space and sci-fi. It’s a great track, one that draws its influences from far and wide.
Talisman has a brooding, atmospheric start. Keyboards play, the sound is dark. It meanders, at a pedestrian pace. After just over a minute the mood lightens, the darkness lifts, the sound changes to different keys. Drums crisply and briskly play. Swathes of sound sweep, brightly. They wash over you. A mini symphony, plays before you. It’s a 21st century symphony, that transports you through different galaxies. The journey may not be long, but it’s one you’ll enjoy, and one you can go on time and time again.
Lyrics are sung through a vocoder at the start of Remember. Here, the sound is loud, ear-splittingly loud. So much so it reverberates. This sound is very much, in your face. It gets close up and personal. Remember, is an amalgamation of synths, a bit like a mini-orchestra. Some are dull, others sharp, some sweep, some squelch. The sound almost overpowers, purely because one of the synths if far too loud, and too far forward in the mix. Don’t get me wrong, the song is good, but the production could be better.
The start of the next song, You Make It Easy, reminds me of the start of a Kraftwerk track Autobahn, as both tracks begin with the sound of a car traveling along a road. After that, the similarities end. You Make It Easy has a brighter sound. Beth Hirsch sings vocals again on this track. Her voice is light and bright, and she sings the song well, singing clearly, accompanied by piano, synths and percussion. The longer the track goes on, the more the sound builds. At first, Hirsch was only accompanied only by a glockenspiel, then gradually, the sound starts to grow. By the end of the track, a multitude of instruments surround her vocal, contributing to a good track, one that is much better than the previous track, Remember.
Ce Matin La begins with a synth swooping, echoing distantly, gradually moving closer. It creeps up on you, catches you unaware. For an instant, your thrown, no idea what will happen next. Then, some pleasant surprises await. A rhodes keyboard and clavinet play, the sound becomes much more pleasing. It’s sweet, almost symphonic, sweeping, massaging at your weary, troubled soul. The next surprise is when a tuba plays a solo. Surprisingly, it works, it’s effective. After that, your hooked, fascinated by the variety of sounds that make an appearance. All you can do is sit back, relax and enjoy this track. Like other tracks on Moon Safari, this one has a reel retro sound, one that is cinematic. Much of the track reminds me of an old movie soundtrack.
There is a much different sound on New Star In the Sky than the previous tracks. An acoustic guitar strums gently, a harmonica plays, with just a bit of reverb changing the sound. The sound is quiet, gentle and meanders slowly, gradually getting louder, the sound filling out, expanding gently. When it does, it’s a lovely track, one that is spacious, allowing the song to breath. Synths whoosh and sweep, they enter, and leave the track. They combine with a multiplicity of musical instruments to produce a stunning track, one of Moon Safari’s highlights
Moon Safari closes with La Voyage De Penelope. It has a hesitant start, frantic discordant sounds play quietly in the distance. As the sound gets closer, the chaotic sound gets clearer. Not totally clear though. Reverb is use heavily on the track. This detracts somewhat from the track. When keyboards and synths play, the sound reverberates. Personally, this muddies the sound on track. It might work on some tracks, but this track would be a much better track with a cleaner sound, it would transform the track, from a good one to a very good one.
I have thoroughly enjoyed revisiting Moon Safari, an album I have always enjoyed. It was interesting to the album again. Unlike many albums that fall into the electronica or dance genres, the sound on Moon Safari doesn’t sound dated. It still sounds fresh and innovative. This was Air’s debut studio album, and such, is a very good debut album. Many artists or groups would take two or three albums to reach this standard. However, Air are talented musicians, who can play a multitude of instruments. What I admire about them, is how their music evolves. They’re not content to find a sound that’s successful, and stick with it, no, they want to reinvent themselves, experiment, and push the musical boundaries. That is what they have done during their career. Moon Safari was the album that launched their career. It’s an outstanding album, one full of some wonderful music, music that is complex and sophisticated, but also very listenable. If you’ve never heard this album, I would recommend it to anyone. It’s album full of subtleties and nuances, which aren’t apparent when you first hear the album, but through time, they will reveal themselves to you. Standout Tracks: La Femme D’Argent, Talisman, Ce Matin La and New Star In the Sky.