Air to the moon in ‘Le Voyage Dans La Lune’

Posted on February 10, 2012 in Album Reviews
By Ryan Cutler

Virgin Records

Pop-weavers Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin boldly tackle science fiction as French electronic duo Air, providing the vessel for a spaced-out experiment with their seventh studio album Le Voyage Dans La Lune.

Le Voyage Dans La Lune is a concept album inspired by Georges Méliès’ “A Trip to the Moon,” a French silent film from 1902 in which a group of astronauts ride a bullet shaped vessel to the stars, landing directly in the eye of the Man on the Moon. Aside from the album’s artwork, which is directly taken from Méliès’ film, the 11 songs compose a loose score of the astronaut’s journey to outer space.

Despite their French pop roots, much of Air’s sound is owed to German psychedelic powerhouse Can, and Kraftwerk’s long and winding 1974 release Autobahn. In “Sonic Armada,” synthesizers blast off like rockets fading into the galaxy above eerie space atmospherics before twisting into delicate pop moments that hint at famous French balladeer Serge Gainsbourg.

While the instrumentation and melodies are well-crafted and fun, the shifting music styles feel awkwardly juxtaposed like a cut-and-pasted music collage. “Astronomic Club” starts the album off with a heavy drum beat reminiscent of a throbbing hip-hop song flirting with a science fiction motif. Half-way through the song, the style changes to subdued ambience: a cinematic development that pervades throughout the album.

Although largely an instrumental album, “Who Am I Now?” is one of the few songs with vocals, sung by New York dream-pop trio Au Revoir Simone. Chilling harmonies trade English phrases with French ones:  “Who am I now/ Je suis enfant/ Who am I now/ Il y a longtemps.” Unsettling brass melodies sprawl on top of quiet space drones, introducing an atmosphere that is as confusing and isolating as one’s first voyage to the Moon. Guitars and pianos, crawling like spiders across the crater-marked moon surface, create the darkest song on the album: a counterpoint for the lighthearted space-pop that precedes the song.

The album’s distinctive music styles, combined in a cinematic flow to accompany Méliès’ groundbreaking film, fall short of blending seamlessly. Instead of a perfectly executed space-pop record, Le Voyage Dans La Lune is an almost successful experiment in a stand-alone film score.