Save Zee Robots

Air's metallic incarnations tend to be artificially unintelligent: "We are synchronizers/We are electronic performers," declares a digitally lowered voice at the onset of 10,000 Hz Legend, with an accent that makes it pronounce the word "EE-LEC-tronic." The next song, the Radiohead parody "How Does It Make You Feel," is a romantic monologue spoken by the Macintosh Simpletext voice "Whisper," which lays on us the awkward compliment "You are the most beautiful entity that I have ever dreamed of," and admits that he is "spacing out with you." But for all the automation and attention to surfaces, the album still plods—mechanically, you might say, if you had in mind a warped cassette recorder—making even Beck sound like Eeyore. Two-thirds of the way in, 10,000 Hz scrapes against two sublimely bad tracks, "People in the City" (pee-PUL in ze ci-TEE) and the jaw-harp shuffle "Wonder Milky Bitch" (wan-DA mil-KEE-bitch), whose target one can only assume is Liesje Sadonius, lead singer of the Belgian band Hooverphonic, who in 1998 released the LP Blue Wonder Power Milk. Even if that explanation isn't specious conjecture, "Wonder Milky Bitch" is a mild dis from another deep, bored, malfunctioning Hal: "You don't wear cosmetic/You don't like arithmetic." Take that, Liesje!

Air have recorded 10,000 Hz Legend in a style so deadpan it could have been written and performed by androids; Daft Punk have put a robotic sheen on an album livelier and more varied than R2-D2 would be capable of producing. "Machines give me some freedom," claims the introductory borg of Air's "Electronic Performers." If there's anything to be said for masks, it's that they can let self-conscious people lose their inhibitions. Ironically, Daft Punk have found more freedom than Air by deliberately obscuring their identities and imagining they've fused with their instruments. The pull toward such mischief is irresistible for studio wonks who love retro drum machines, but it does get old fast. Look what it did for the Earons.

The Air that you breathe
photo: Christophe Sillem
The Air that you breathe


10,000 Hz Legend

Daft Punk

Air play Hammerstein Ballroom June 21.

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