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20 years, seven albums, two artists and one Air, complied over three excellent CDs



Release date: 10 June 2016
Air Twentyears
08 June 2016, 14:20 Written by Chris Todd
Initially lumped in with the trip hop scene of the late 90s, Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel - otherwise known as French duo Air - soon outgrew that insular scene.

The ubiquity of their second album, 1998’s Moon Safari, resulted in them playing an accidental part of the so called ‘chill out’ scene, an excuse for record labels to release compilations of slow, vaguely electronic tracks for people who, like them, had never been to Café del Mar but would one day love to (also see “At The River” by Groove Armada).

Air could have easily have continued down this path. “Sexy Boy”, “All I Need, La Femme D'arent” were louche, sophisticated tracks, very adult, and hit a chord, be it with pop lovers or indie fans, and Moon Safari also doubled up as a great come-down album. But the duo took a notable left-turn with their follow up, 2001’s 10 000 Hz Legend, a wilfully uncommercial follow-up where they amped up the cinematic element of their sound, but also injected krautrock and proggy elements into their particular brand of heartbroken downbeat disco, coming up with a career highpoint, albeit a massively underrated one, in the process.

The urgent psychedelic freak out of “Don't Be Light” featuring a cameo from Beck, whose band collaborate with Air on the album is their most rockist moment, Beck fans will note the explicit influence of Air on his 2002 classic Sea Change. “How Does It Make You Feel”, a yearning piece of smoky lust with whispered, computerised vocals and sublime multi-tracked harmonies pinched straight from 10cc's “I'm Not In Love” is absolutely essential, even ending with a joke from this ever poker faced duo. The out of breath voice asks “how does this make you feel?” to which an equally computerised female voice responds 'I really think you should give up smoking”.

Their Talkie Walkie album of 2004 and Pocket Symphony three years later continued with fusion of pop and soundtrack influences, a continuation of their work composing the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, with the former in particular referencing their dalliance with commercial pop. "Cherry Blossom Girl" is honey in musical form and the pitched up vocal enhancements of “Run” showcase a knack of vocal harmonising that would make Brian Wilson proud, but backed by really bizarre and endlessly fascinating music. Among so many wonderful songs, this proves to be their key track.

The ‘Super Deluxe’ edition of the Twentyears compilation adds another two CDs' worth of material, the second being a collection of session tracks, b-sides and rarities which show their attention to detail went far beyond the albums. The seductive glamour of “The Duellist” is a wonderful collaboration between themselves, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jarvis Cocker, who indulges his Scott Walker obsession brilliantly.“Indian Summer” adds sitar to their synth melodrama in a moment of pure funk, while the David Whitaker version of one of the finest tracks from Moon Safari, “Remember”, replaces all the percussion with a lavish string section which cannot fail to make the listener swoon.

The final CD collects their remix work and shows how their music is so suited to other artists. Their mix of “Kootchi” by Neneh Cherry shows off a tragic missed opportunity as the two artists complement each other so well, while their mixes of “Home” by Depeche Mode and “A Better Future” by David Bowie are also lessons in how to stamp your own sound on an artist. All are masterful remixes.

Twentyears does exactly what a compilation needs to; it shows how Air are arguably one of the last great singles bands, but by delving beyond the hits we are presented with an abbreviated version of a back catalogue of panache and flair. Always engaging, always different, but always Air.

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