Air: Pocket Symphony 

On first listen, Pocket Symphony seems to offer proof that French popsters Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin are growing up. But while the musical ideas of the French duo continue to evolve, their lyrical content stays about the same: love, longing and, as always, sex. Sure, the rhythmic drive of their latest album has more emotional appeal than the '70s-retro sleaze-bass central to Moon Safari (1998); their recent work also utilizes more unprocessed acoustic instruments, continuing to move in the same direction as Talkie Walkie (2004). The hint of Japonism that started off as icing on the cake (with their work on the Lost in Translation soundtrack) emerges as a full-on flavor in Pocket Symphony, with Japanese koto (13-string harp) and shamisen (three-string banjo) competently played by Godin himself. However, on the down side, Pocket Symphony guest vocalists/lyricists Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon fall flat, especially compared with previous Air guest singers (not to mention Air's fantabulous collaboration with Charlotte Gainsbourg on her album 5:55). But I'll admit that I'm biased: I think the French-inflected, candy-sweet voice of Jean-Benoit Dunckel has all the androgynous appeal of Nina Simone (without the soul) or early Bowie (without the knowing wink), mixed with a whisper-y cybernetic blankness that perfectly suits the synth-pop duo (though they've cut the vocal effects since 10,000 Megahertz Legend). Dunckel also has no problem delivering the fluffiest lyrics completely deadpan. (Try repeating "How strange is your love / How warm is your love / How tough is your love" six or seven times, and you'll realize it's not as easy as it seems to keep a straight face.) Thus proving that Air is still all about whipping up tasty French sound confectioneries, in the lineage of Jean-Michel Jarre and Serge Gainsbourg.

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