Air – 10,000 Hz Legend

Pink Floyd meets Kraftwerk and Burt Bacharach on 10,000 Hz Legend, as Air combines the strengths and quirks of various styles into psychedelic pop electronica.

Air’s Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin had a big hit with their previous CD, Moon Safari. Like their previous album, 10,000 Hz Legend sounds like they’ve been listening to a lot of old Pink Floyd and cheesy pop tunes. On Legend, Air uses a sort of ironic persona that, much like Kraftwerk did with songs like “We are the Robots”. The songs are catchy and clever, but their song personas seem to detach the singers from the emotion and content of the songs.

The CD art captures the essence of Air’s music. It’s an illustration that looks a little like the work of Roger Dean for Yes covers. It shows a desolate desert with an ultra-modern building on an outcropping. You can see inside the building, and it looks like it’s half space ship, half recording studio. You can imagine Air’s music coming from a future studio like this.

The CD opener, “Electronic Performers”, sets the tone. The music combines Kraftwerk drums and Pink Floyd guitar riffs and string synth. The vocal is delivered in a robotic voice, filtered so that it sounds inhuman:

“We are the syncronizers
Send messages through time code
Midi clock rings in my mind
Machines gave me some freedom
Synthesizers gave me some wings
They drop me through twelve bit samplers
We are electronic performers
We are electronics”

Air uses this sort of detached robotic persona on many songs on 10,000 Hz Legend. While Kraftwerk’s music sounded like robots trying to make pop music, Air sounds like the same robots after they’ve done a lot of drugs, gotten disillusioned, and had some psychological problems.

“How Does It Make you Feel?” continues with this trippy electronica vibe. The song is sung by a synthesized voice that sounds a little like the text reading software on Macintosh computers. It sings a sort of love song that sounds touching and genuine at first, and then moves into ironic territory:

“At night I will protect you in your dreams
I will be your angel
You worry so much about not having enough time together
It makes no difference to me
I would be happy with just one minute in your arms
Let’s have an extended play together
You’re telling me that we live to far to love each other
But your love can stretch further than you and I can see
So how does it make you feel?”

The chorus of “How does it make you feel?” is the only part that sounds like it’s being sung by humans, and it’s a lightweight pop chorus that contrasts with the irony of the verses.

Beck shows up on a couple of tunes. On “The Vagabond”, he adds vocals and harmonica, giving the song a folk-electronica sound. Beck delivers the lyrics in a straightforward way, leaving behind the irony and distance of the other tracks. He also contributes to “Don’t Be Light”.

10,000 Hz Legend doesn’t seem to be as consistent as Moon Safari. Songs like “Lucky and Unhappy” are a great mix of pop, angst, and psychedelic influences. Some of the songs, though, like “Radio #1”, are pleasant and catchy, but don’t leave as much of an impression. “Wonder Milky Bitch” may even piss off some listeners with its dismissive lyrics:

“This is the story of a country girl
Back in town from her country house
She came to me with her muddy boots
She destroyed all my carpet
You know how to do it
Wonder milky bitch
You never wear cosmetic
You don’t like arithmetic
You know how to do it
Wonder milky bitch”

Air’s 10,000 Hz Legend isn’t a perfect album, but it succeeds in developing the Air sound. Though it’s easy to hear Air’s influences, it would be hard to imagine anyone but Air recording the tracks on this CD.

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