Georges Méliès’s newly restored, 14-minute 1902 sci-fi silent film A Trip to the Moon is widely considered a treasure of the silent film age. It’s a surrealist tale of a lunar landing and outer space camping trip which very quickly builds to a battle with spear-wielding moon-people, the assassination of their king, and a quick and chaotic escape. This makes for an engrossing narrative even today, and even the primitive imagery comes across as stylized rather than outdated. Now it’s finally being rendered in color on the film-festival circuit after the recent discovery of a long-lost print, and so also has a new soundtrack, wisely commissioned from the same guys who so aptly handled the music for Sofia Coppola’s 1999 macabre teen pseudo-romance The Virgin Suicides.
Air’s new material actually surpasses the film’s running time, so it’s important that the songs function independently, which they do quite admirably. In fact, the only indication that anything else is afoot is the launch sequence voiceover that turns up near the beginning of the album. After that, songs named “Cosmic Trip” and “Moon Fever” would be right at home on any other release from France’s resident space cadets.
The latter is comprised mainly of a lonely piano loop swathed in misty ambience that would make Groove Armada proud. “Sonic Armada” can be forgiven its awkward title, since it’s a career highlight and certainly the album’s master stroke – a growling bassline and some manner of keyboard plinkery caught up in an argument so captivating that you’ll zoom right past the jam band-inspired organ solo yammering away on top, easily on par with the finest moments of their beloved 1998 debut Moon Safari. From any other artist, a title like A Trip to the Moon might indicate a curveball or a dramatic experimental break, but in this case we’re merely reminded that Air has been hanging out up there all along.