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"Le Voyage Dans La Lune"

Air – Le Voyage Dans La Lune
02 January 2012, 07:59 Written by Matthew Haddrill

There’s an epic backstory to Air’s latest long player Le Voyage Dans La Lune (“A Trip To The Moon”), an extended soundtrack to legendary French film-maker George Melies’ early sci-fi classic. The original version of the film was released in 1902 and, loosely based on Jules Verne’s ‘From The Earth To The Moon’ and H.G. Wells ‘The First Men In The Moon’, its extra-terrestrial themes and early use of “special effects” were part of the inspiration for a whole genre of movies. A colour version of Melies’ work was lost but then resurfaced mysteriously in Barcelona in the 90s, and was thought to be unusable because of its dilapidated condition. Painstakingly, frame-by-frame, the film was re-assembled and digitized, and finally screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. In keeping with its futuristic leanings, Air’s Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel were asked to come up with a suitable modern soundtrack to accompany the restored artefact. Cannes was a great success and Godin and Dunckel were spurred on to develop some of the musical themes on a full-length album (the actual film runs for just under 16 minutes, typical for films of that era, of course), with words added by Au Revoir Simone and Victoria Legrand of Beach House on select songs.

The French band Air are no strangers to things lunar, of course, with their seminal 1998 release Moon Safari, but Le Voyage Dans La Lune sounds more like an extension of recent themes from albums Love 2 and Pocket Symphony, along with their work on films like Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Virgin Suicides’ in 1999. In other words, and contrary to their stated intention of creating something with a “hand-made” feel like Melies’ original film, the music here sounds sophisticated and technical with great swirling atmospheric effects.

For me at least, the highlights of the album are those songs featuring Victoria Legrand’s half-spoken deadpan Nico-styled voice, ‘Seven Stars’ and ‘Cosmic Life’, along with Au Revoir Simone’s ethereal-sounding vocals, which are peppered throughout but feature most prominently on ‘Who Am I Now?’. Air have often been criticised for having too many guests, something which they went out of their way to avoid on 2009′s triumph Love 2, but rather like Thomas Mars (from Phoenix)’s performance on ‘Playground Love’ which made that song truly great on their Coppola soundtrack, this time they’ve also chosen well. With Beach House and Air, I would never really have thought of putting the two together, but in practice it all makes perfect sense: both possessing dream-pop sensibilities and music of widescreen possibilities. ‘Seven Stars’ is set to the part of the movie when the rocket takes off, and Godin and Dunckel build the atmosphere with a layered drum rather like the Aphex Twin-inspired ‘Electronic Performers’ on 2001′s 10,000 Hz Legend, backed with piano and synth and Legrand’s words, as the song speeds to its soaring climax. ‘Cosmic Trip’ is driven with a drum loop redolent of the bands earlier material on The Virgin Suicides, and backed with the a synth like ’70s classic ‘Popcorn’. ‘Who Am I Now?’ has the feel of a spooky Francis Lai soundtrack, this time ghosted with siren-like vocals in French and English by Au Revoir Simone.

Le Voyage Dans La Lune clocks in at just over 30 minutes and so is best listened to as a largely instrumental soundtrack. It could be a bit rougher round the edges, but most will enjoy the technological sheen that Air once again bring to their work. Godin also hoped it would kickstart the “musical vampires” in a new musical direction by getting them to focus away from themselves. Can it count as Air’s latest album? The French duo have put their heart and soul into the project and the crafting of another synth-pop gem would seem to suggest an unequivocal “Yes”.

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