Review Summary: Relying more on atmosphere than catchiness, Pocket Symphony is an entrancing piece, capturing Air doing away with pop songs with little complaint to be heard.
Originally Posted by Nicolas Godin
We realize we can write a song with just a sentence that you can repeat in the chorus
Sound familiar? If so then you probably know the Air that has lead up to this point. The previously mentioned "haiku" approach to songwriting combined with cool atmospheres have been a formula for success so far for the band. One trick ponies? Not quite, for every "Remember" there is always a perfectly balanced pop song in the form of a "Cherry Blossom Girl" to give the band depth, but this is all in the past, and we're here to focus on the present and the new. Following Air's golden rule of "one full length release every three years", 2007 would be the year the band expanded on their instrument usage all the way to the East (Japan to be exact) and put the title of last years mix tape album, Late Night Tales
into practice. Most of these songs are melancholy and soft, waiting for a darkened sky to play to; but its not that simple as without the pop structures and radio-ready format that previous releases had spun into gold, this was without most of that. What is left are 12 tracks featuring guest vocalists, instruments from Japan, not enough pop songs but a peaceful atmospheric work that should please any casual or hardcore fan. The heart and soul of this work can be found in the usual musical approach taken by the band, but is enhanced with the lungs and spleen of the Koto (http://home.san.rr.com/koto/images/koto.gif) and the Shamisen (http://images.encarta.msn.com/xrefmedia/sharemed/targets/images/pho/t025/T025128C.jpg). The setup is different and the band can put this new found experience (it did take Goodin a year to learn how to play these instruments after all) to making something new and yet travel back to make a release more like Moon Safari
. While it does recollect of their debut disc more than their previous Astralwerks release, the band is much more diverse and experienced than nine years ago.
It begins with covering familiar ground, an instrumental opener with the name of "Space Maker", a rather spacey, stream of consciousness but it still follows general rules of structure which benefits the track. Though it seems lengthy at four minutes it holds up well as a track on its own as opposed to just the introduction. What helps it stand up on its own is what follows it, that being the lead single "Once Upon a Time" which may be no all time classic but is our first chance to hear Jean Benoit Dunckel's voice since the previous year's solo project Darkel
. The song is written in the haiku form that has vaulted and made their songs on the past, in this case with the line "I'm a little boy/you're a little girl/once upon a time". Here piano leads the charge in loop form with an actual drummer (in the video at least) and a Shamisen over the interlude section. The new Air has shown its colors but the massive shock changes don't come until the next song which features a guest vocalist and the beginning of what makes this work a grower, one that takes time to get into.
It plays at a slower rate, displays more Shamisen and more significantly the ex front man of Pulp
, Jarvis Cocker, these reasons are what make "One Hell of a Party" the stop drop and reexamine moment of Pocket Symphony, isn't there only one conductor in this miniature music machine? Mainly yes, but this one was picked up while producing another work and the more the merrier. This turns out to be true as the slow paced low tone voice of Cocker goes along greatly with the somber sounding night after the party. Guest vocalists turn tricks for the group again later in the album with Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon with "Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping" which plays out like it sounds. The major bulk of the album is a division of sprawling calm piano lead tunes and guitar drenched faster songs with Dunckel on the mic. The exception is "Mer du Japon" which features a suprising awakening of the synth, making the backdrop on this fast paced song. The album ends on "Night Sight" which is one of those things that is predictable but still enjoyable. It does play out like the title states, employing the synth to play notes in the key of Night Sight, if thats at all possible.
It may take some getting used to it, but proper exposure and realizing the continued growth of Air will still lead to the road of musical satisfaction. They may be in their 12th year of existence but this is still a young and growing musical project, one that has seen different days and shows it in the changes of their music. This is recommended if you are a fan of chill out electronica, late night drives or walks, or if you want to hear the newest thing from Air.
Recommended Tracks: Once Upon a Time, Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping, Napalm Love, Left Bank