Moon Safari (Caroline ’98) Rating: A-
The French duo of Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin caused quite a stir with Moon Safari, which was highly touted by both critics and the underground cognoscenti. And though at first I found the album to be merely a pleasant diversion, especially the awesome new wave single “Sexy Boy” (its kitschy effects and tongue-in-cheek chorus are cool but it’s the drop-dead gorgeous vocals on the sleepy verses that really knocks me out), after repeat plays I grew to appreciate the album’s seductive spell. Although the band’s rhythmic brand of dreamily progressive lounge pop rarely works as anything more than pleasingly soothing mood music, Air’s airy synthesizer melodies are surprisingly satisfying. After all, there are odd futuristic effects on even their most seemingly simplistic songs to keep things sounding interesting, and though the wide-eyed wonder of “Kelly Watch The Stars” and the lushly inviting “Remember” merely offer continuously repeated chants (the latter robotic chants at that), they nevertheless have an enjoyably relaxing quality to them. Some gurgling guitar and exquisite string arrangements also hit the spot, as does my beloved Moog synthesizer, some sprightly percussion, and even mood enhancing horns on “Ce Matin La” and “Le Voyage de Penelope” (I think those are horns on “Le Voyage de Penelope,” anyway; they may very well be synthesizers). Air occasionally delivers substance to their lyrics, too; these are sometimes sung in French if at all, as half the album - “La Femme d’Argent,” “Talisman,” “Ce Matin La,” “New Star in the Sky (Chanson Pour Solal),” and “Le Voyage de Penelope” - is comprised of instrumentals (aside from a backing chant here and there). Guest vocalist Beth Hirsh plays the Beth Orton/Tracy Thorn role to a tee on sad, sexy ballads such as “All I Need” and “You Make It Easy,” and though a few of these songs could aptly be called pleasantly forgettable ear candy, even the duo’s least memorable songs sound impeccable (the production is phenomenal). Whenever I play this album among mixed company someone will often be impressed enough to ask “who is this?”, and I can’t imagine too many people not at least liking this album, whose relaxing, warmly inviting mood music makes for a perfect supper time companion.