Air, Moon Safari

Philip Sherburne

By Philip Sherburne

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

Moon Safari

Filtering ’50s and ’60s Space Age fantasies with laid-back funk and sunny, melodic pop

At least in the United States, the French duo Air was initially lumped in with the "electronica" boom of the mid '90s, and with some reason; their first singles appeared on Source, a French label that followed in the wake of Daft Punk's "French touch," and England's Mo Wax, which paved a path between the cultures of rave and hip-hop. But the main contribution of the group's 1998 debut album, Moon Safari, had little to do with electronic music's technological focus or teleological bent. Like their contemporaries Stereolab, theirs was a retro-futurism, filtering the Space Age fantasies of the 1950s and '60s — referenced in kitschy vocoder effects and primitive synthesizers and drum machines — through a kind of laid-back funk familiar from Serge Gainsbourg and softcore porn, and adding a heaping dose of Burt Bacharach's sunny, melodic pop. In keeping with DJ culture's spirit of bricolage, their wobbly oscillators and bluesy Rhodes riffs constitute a kind of archaeology of taste, unearthing the signifiers of bygone styles and fixing them in place like dioramas; it's no wonder that the director Sofia Coppola would ask the group to soundtrack her 2000 film The Virgin Suicides. But the album never gets mired in its own hipness; for all its lightweight, easy-listening roots, it has turned out to be an enduring classic, one that both evokes and transcends the era of its origin.