The video on this enhanced extended-play CD comes from the street action surrounding Air’s performance in Los Angeles last summer. It’s okay footage—all digitally dislocated and treated and what not. What’s interesting to me is that J.B. Dunckel and Nicholas Godin’s Air is trying to get an edge.
It’s been a long time—at least since the acclaimed Moon Safari, 1998—since J.B. Dunckel and Nicholas Godin made lush bachelor pad music for melancholiacs. Their electric piano and string synthesizer made such a good match for the hazy afternoon gloom and doom in their score for Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides that is where the music decided to stay. 10,000 Hz Legend was constructed from the same materials as the soundtrack, basically averaging three synthesizer chords per tune, a few notes to chant or moan, and everything else just bulges out around the tunes like jelly poking out of a donut. Just as tasty, too, in limited doses.
There’s no point in ignoring the obvious flaw in this whole release: what you’d call near useless product. Everybody Hertz contains remix cycles of three songs from 10,000 Hz Legend. Just three songs, programmed so that “Don’t Be Light” runs between each version of “How Does It Make You Feel”, and “People in the City”. Plus one new one to grow on, true—“The Way You Look Tonight”—and an enhanced CD video from a live performance. But it’s reasonable to question of the whole idea of a remix collection anyway; I for one rarely ever learn anything new about music I know from more than one or two DJs at a time. Just about the only collection that worked for me was a High Llamas tribute called Lollo Russo (V2, 1997), because Sean O’Hagan’s thick melodies and harmonies got some good scuffing by the mixers. With Air, it’s beyond perfectly reasonable to assume that the remixers will remake 10,000 Hz Legend into 10,000 Hz Anecdotes. It isn’t just a matter of altering music but of breaking up that pre-club-early-evening mood the duo lives and breathes by. Didn’t the Premieres Symptomes EP (2000) demonstrate just how tepid their idea of a beat really was?
So a consumer disservice it is. Dunckel and Godin have previously managed to compose around the usual clichés of today’s easy-listening pop by inventing their own—by giving medium-slow and mid-tempos their own specific gravity, by deepening the string synthesizer textures, by giving Dunckel’s bass some room to slide, by letting the chorales swell up behind the keyboards; everything-in-its-place is a compliment this time. Sure, Air’s approach is fairly predictable but on their own terms. ‘Til now tastefulness hasn’t hurt them. Now Dunckel and Godin have permitted other artists to put back the tackiness that they eschewed.
The title pun is a good, tacky start, though. Some the remixed music is pretty good. The nicest version of “How Does It Make You Feel?” comes from dub impresario Adrian Sherwood of On-U Sound, who piles on with his own dub sci-fi, with Junior Delgado’s vocal in the chorus no doubt contributed on the fly. But the spaciness turns the humor of the distorted pillow talk that runs over the music into mere weirdness. The Neptunes play around with the same tune by adding jazzy chord changes, flattening the rhythms an unyielding machine beat, and putting all their crosschat in the behind a curtain of echo. “People in the City” is already so catchy it almost doesn’t matter that Lahana’s remix sounds both thin and obnoxiously hyper, as if German synth-poppers Laid Back were doing up The Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out?” and forgot to bring a bass, of all things. And even if Lahana’s kind of vulgarity really constitutes the music of city lights, Modjo’s lounge-jazz version is more satisfying because it’s light on its feet, even with horns and swishing cymbals and crooning vocals and other sappy stuff not to be found on Air’s original. Typically, Air’s own edit of “How Does It Make You Feel” makes a little recessiveness sound alluring. On the other hand, Thomas Bangalter’s edit of “Don’t Be Light” is easily the most striking music here—he brings out the electric guitar solo, heightens the vocals to give the lyrics some space of their own.
Still, they’re simply attractive alternatives rather than improvements on the originals, so maybe “striking” is the wrong word. “Relief” might be better, since the remaining remixes are plain old vulgar—the tick-tock syndrums of Mr. Oizo’s and Roger Manning a/k/a Malibu interpretations of “Don’t Be Light” might as well be rewrites of Laid Back’s 1984 hit “White Horse”. Most annoying, even the good ones use throwaway bad-words, as if they’re trying to prove something about Air’s music to Air’s audience, with Air’s encouragement. The line “I want to taste your pussy” in the Neptunes’ otherwise loveable “Don’t Be Light” to Jack Lahana’s “People in the City”, featuring some shout-outs from girls who chant “Bitches in the City”. My, how edgy. This being 2002, it’s time to note that without some sort of context (beyond rhythmic placement) this kind of dropped-in cussing-for-cussing’s-sake is tiresome. It’s hard to believe that these whiffs of sulphur are going to fill any of Air’s arena shows.
// Notes from the Road
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