The hip-hop drums, echoing timpani, intermittent horns, piano, and synthesized chanting that start off Air’s first record in three years are immediately transcendental, energizing, and captivating. As “Astronomic Club” continues, layers are added then taken away—it’s hauntingly beautiful. The guitar cries then cuts in deep before fading into the ethereal distance. It sounds just like you would imagine Air to sound in 2012, but it is starkly the opposite of what you’d expect as a soundtrack to a 1902 silent film.
Le Voyage Dans la Lune (named after the short film it was written for 110 years late), is Air’s first full length recording since 2009’s lukewarm Love 2. Having a history in soundtracks, not to mention lunar references, the album follows suit with Air’s entire career. At just over 30 minutes long, the extended version of Le Voyage is still short enough that you are left more than a little surprised when the next band in your alphabetical list on iTunes starts so soon, but it’s not so short that you don’t have time to learn the full character of the piece. It has ups and downs, twists and turns, moments of light and dark.
With each progressive song, the general demeanor of the album seems to flip over entirely. “Astronomic Club” starts with power and drifts into something a bit more atmospheric with “Seven Stars”. The 32-second “Retour sur Terre” leads the way into “Parade”, which lives up to its name through racing drum beats and laser-esque keyboard runs before “Moon Fever” puts you in a dream state. Just like the film (which you can watch in full, below, and which also was the inspiration for a certain Smashing Pumpkins video), the record has its moments of excitement, chaos, confusion, and clarity.
But don’t just think of this as the soundtrack to an old film that most living people have never seen. Le Voyage could stand as a score for a film of today as well, but it stands on its own as a feat of modern music. Despite the fact that man has indeed stepped on the moon more than once since the making of the film in 1902, it is also the case that more than 99% of us are still 100% clueless about what it would be like. For that reason, Le Voyage itself could be the soundtrack to any mysterious trip, and also for that reason, it transcends from historical into modern – fusing a film that at the time of its conception was a completely fictional and hardly reachable dream, with the music of today (not to mention the diminishing interest in space travel).
One of Air’s most impressive qualities is that their electronica sound is still perfectly organic: borne of the atmosphere, as their name states. That has never been more true than on Le Voyage. Granted, the live bass and drums are a big reason, but it’s also informed by the music’s overall tone. Hardly a note is forced, and each section moves into the next without making any transition too obvious. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule—between “Homme Lune” and the record-ending “Lava”, the cut seems a bit awkward, as if a note was edited out where it should have been left in. That, though, is a rather insignificant moment in the overall scheme of things.
Nearly 20 years into the French duo’s career, Le Voyage Dans la Lune is yet even more proof of Air’s relevance in the evolution of modern music.