Air are smudgers. Since the Versailles-born duo of Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin went worldwide with 1998’s Moon Safari, they’ve promoted the furry sound of ancient synthesizers and mid-century orchestras rendered in warm, blurry analog. Even Air’s dance tracks have a feline character, as though digital recording, unchecked, risked too much top-end sizzle to facilitate their alert notions of purring, mid-rangy pleasure. And they’ve avoided stark sonic lines, investigating areas—hedonistic dance, ’70s prog, ’60s California pop, Hollywood symphonies—that American and British neoclassicists have deemed relatively closed stylistic cases. Air have re-opened them, exercising the French predisposition to reappraise what others discard.
On their new Pocket Symphony, working with film-score and ambient styles, Air are at their smudgy best, improving upon earlier companion works like the Virgin Suicides soundtrack or City of Reading, their terrific collaboration with the Italian writer Alessandro Baricco. Where others have not quite determined how to erect inhabitable pop-song rooms in these instrumental spaces, Air do it easily. The English producer Nigel Godrich is around for the Enoesque fun, as is Jarvis Cocker, who whisper-sings the merciless “Hell of a Party.” Otherwise, Air go eventfully instrumental on “Mer du Japon,” scary-heartsick on “Left Bank,” and somewhat spiritual on “Photograph,” where God is a major rock fan. The mood is lulling, narrative, and pictorial even when the lyrics disappear—all subtly melodic and gloriously smudged.