Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel, better known as French act Air, aren't delusional. They realize their new album, with its unexpectedly dark landscape, will take some fans by surprise.
Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel aren't delusional. They realize their new album, with its unexpectedly dark landscape, will take some fans by surprise.
Godin and Dunckel are better known as French act Air, previously noted for its upbeat, electronic pop. The album they are referring to -- the hazy, dreamlike "10,000 Hz. Legend" -- evokes all things '70s, from Pink Floyd to Kraftwerk, but with a decidedly contemporary bent.
"It's like a Pink Floyd record but with humor," Godin says of the new Source/Astralwerks album, which is due out May 29 (In Europe, the set arrives one day earlier via Source/Virgin). "It's definitely like a drug trip, which scares me and Jean because we're not drug addicts. In that sense, it's somewhat embarrassing and ironic. Still, it is a little druggy."
"10,000 Hz. Legend" is the antithesis of the duo's three-year-old U.S. debut, the buoyant "Moon Safari," which was steeped in lighthearted melodies, romantic rhythms, and kitschy orchestral references to '70s porn soundtracks and French pop.
"'Moon Safari' was more optimistic," Dunckel acknowledges, "whereas the new album is heavier, darker, and deeper, with more layers and flavors."
Astralwerks director of associated labels Nick Clift notes, "I think Air shares some of Radiohead's attitude to making albums, in that they refuse to conform to expectations. It's important to them that they continually redefine their sound. And while there are a lot of identifiable 'Air-isms' on the new record, those expecting 'Moon Safari Part 2' are going to be surprised."
In fact, "10,000 Hz. Legend" is more like a follow-up to the duo's original score for the Sofia Coppola film "The Virgin Suicides." Astralwerks released the score last year.
According to SoundScan, "Moon Safari" and "The Virgin Suicides" have sold 209,000 and 89,000 units in the U.S. respectively. The duo's EP, "Premiers Symptomes," has sold 77,000 copies since its 1999 U.S. release.
Both Godin and Dunckel admit that "10,000 Hz. Legend" couldn't have been made without first tackling "The Virgin Suicides." "Creating that soundtrack was a definite stepping stone to get to the new album," Godin explains. "Without it, we wouldn't have been able to make this album the way we did."
Since the film was set in the '70s, Air freely incorporated Hammond organ, old-school drum patterns, and Serge Gainsbourg influences into the mix. "We put all the '70s sounds into the soundtrack," Godin says with a chuckle.
At this, Dunckel nods his head and adds, "For the new album, we could use all the toys we wanted to; we didn't have to be so obvious with the '70s stuff. The new album captures the freedom of the '70s, not necessarily the specific musical sounds [or] instruments of that era."
Godin and Dunckel say they spent six months working on "10,000 Hz. Legend" in Paris. When the album was near completion, the two went to Los Angeles to add some final touches, Godin says. "There are just certain sounds and elements we couldn't get in Paris. So, we went to L.A. to record with a choir, classical musicians, and guest artists."
The guest artists he's referring to are Beck ("The Vagabond" and "Don't Be Light") and Sugar and Yumiko of Buffalo Daughter ("Sex Born Poison"), as well as Red Kross drummer Brian Reitzell, an alumnus of the Moon Safari tour.
If truth be told, the duo is quite enamored of the City of Angels. "This album is also our love story with L.A.," Godin says, laughing. "It's like our vision of America -- or maybe the effect America has had on us."
The album's first single, "Radio #1," can be heard on the label's Web site, Astralwerks.com. The single has been shipped to modern rock and triple-A formats, and the album will soon be delivered to college, modern rock, and triple-A radio.
With Gallic tongue firmly planted in cheek, the twosome shares thoughts about mainstream radio. "We really don't worry about commercial success," Dunckel offers. "Which is why we did 'Radio #1,'" Godin interjects. "It's our thoughts on popular radio today."
The video for "Radio #1" was directed by the Parisian team of Alex and Martin, who previously directed videos for fellow French acts Cassius and Phoenix. It features Godin and Dunckel broadcasting their own pirate radio station in a remote desert location.
In a savvy marketing move, Astralwerks has partnered with MTV2 to pre-promote the album. For approximately four weeks prior to the album's release, Clift explains, the cable network will air special promotional clips (created by Paris-based designer Ora-Ito), Air's previous videos, a documentary by Mike Mills (who did the artwork for "Moon Safari"), and the new videoclip.
MTV2 is also the official presenter of Air's upcoming tour, which commences June 14 and takes in 20 key markets. Opening for Air is Parisian Sebastien Tellier, the first signing to Air's own label, Record Makers. Tellier's debut album, "L'Incroyable Verite" (The Unbelievable Truth), will be released through Astralwerks June 12.