May 16, 2001
Air : 10,000Hz Legend
Stunningly realised cosmic progressive heartache
9 / 10
There's nothing like gratuitously trashing your public image. If Air's debut album (1998's 'Moon Safari') established them as a byword for casual style-mag chic, then its successor looks like a brazen attempt to destroy that image for good. '10,000Hz Legend' is nothing like 'Moon Safari', then again it doesn't really bear a resemblance to much. Instead, it's a glowing, highly ambitious, quasi-concept album that sees Air spiralling off on a wildly idiosyncratic and brilliantly insane tangent all of their own.
In the last five years, many groups (Radiohead, Spiritualized, Super Furry Animals) have been accused of ushering in the new prog. On '10,000Hz...', Air actually do. The cover (featuring our two heroes - Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel - on the bridge of a space station in the middle of a bright red desert) offers the first clue. The last time anyone saw artwork like this, it was 1973, and Yes had just begun to terrorise the known universe with 'Tales From Topographic Oceans' - the least cool album ever made.
Still, the good news is, this may look like
a Yes album, but it certainly doesn't sound like one. This being new prog, it's not all beards, 24-hour keyboard solos and wizards. No, it's more futuristic than that. Most of
this LP sounds like it was constructed by androids rather than a French architect and physics teacher. The vocals are robotic, the lyrics are about "melancholy snipers" and "desire sensors" and the whole LP ends
with an interstellar blast of stereo-panning space effects.
What makes '10,000Hz...' so fantastic
is its sheer level of invention. All the songs here are multi-sectioned mini-symphonies crammed with furiously disparate influences. The album's outstanding track ('Don't Be Light') is the perfect case in point. It starts with angelic choirs, segues into a pulsating Krautrock groove, collapses into a fuzzed guitar solo, goes into a spoken word section and then ends in a fit of whistling.
Air do not want you to be bored. They want you to be amazed, scared and shocked, but not bored. Elsewhere then, they present shimmering harps and droning electronics ('Radian'), a song about blowjobs ('Wonder Milky Bitch'), some bad jokes (excellent
single 'Radio # 1' ends with a pretend DJ singing along over the top of it) and the occasional wail of police sirens ('People In The City'). The only vaguely straight track is the one that features Beck. It must have got on by mistake.
There are some people who say that having done the soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides, Air have now moved onto their most ambitious project to date: commercial suicide. Actually, though, by dint of having the courage of their convictions and tackling prog head-on, they've succeeded in making the uncool cool. Like Radiohead with
'Kid A', they've wrong-footed their legion
of imitators and in the process advanced
their own reputation immeasurably. It might be ideologically suspect, but it sounds
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