I love you, but I’ve chosen sunlight

Once seducers in the night, the French duo Air ends the romance on their latest album ‘Pocket Symphony’

Haily Gostas

Having once claimed during an interview that all their songs were simply “about blow jobs,” Air has never shied from the seductive. With their slow-burning electronic grooves, the French duo of Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel are purveyors for the night of. They do first and think later, maintaining an atmosphere of smarmy decadence with each wave of sensually spacey sound.

Air
ALBUM: “Pocket Symphony”
LABEL: Astral Werks

Surprisingly, their fifth full-length album “Pocket Symphony” isn’t so much a return to the baby-making breakthroughs of their delicious 1998 debut “Moon Safari.” Instead, it’s a sobering polar opposite; a quiet, if not stern, affair that makes itself clear from the very first track – this is Air’s morning after.

The mood is immediately introspective and quite somber with “Space Maker,” a somnolent outing heavily influenced by the darker aspects of classical music, and one that seems to be floating alone among the stars with nothing but its own thoughts.

A bold move, Air’s choosing to have their first album in three years be so spaciously morose and so much less Ö naughty. Even despite the possibility of losing some longtime fans with music cloaked in such a chilled melancholia, they nevertheless deliver an album that’s extremely consistent in its stillness. Air has proved they can easily pen tremendously catchy songs when so inclined; with “Pocket Symphony,” they’d rather create finely-tuned elevator music.

The group looks again to Japan for inspiration (they dabbled in its imagery on 2004’s “Talkie Walkie”), using the spindly-sounding koto and shamisen on a handful of tracks as well as a zen-like sense of instrumental placement.

Godin and Dunckel do most of the vocalizing through their familiar lisping robot filter, but ex-Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker supplies his husky, downtrodden pipes to “One Hell of a Party,” suiting the song’s dreary metaphor of a breakup as the worst hangover. Air uncharacteristically means to claim that even the most glamorous, seemingly unending soirees eventually unravel, but the musical structure is so barebones (for the most part, there’s nothing but a few piano notes here and there beneath Cocker’s quaver) that the sentiment falls somewhat flat. The normally sprightly Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy guests on “Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping,” but the result is equally mild at best.

Only the upbeat ambiences of “Napalm Love” or “Mer du Japon” really ascend to any groove. The rest lounges in luxurious inactivity, which occasionally works well on looping minimalist instrumentals like in “Night Sight” and “Lost Message.” The entire album itself deals with the complications of toxic love, so it makes sense that Dunckel and Godin abandon attempts at fully romanticizing heartbreak and mostly reveal just how dreary it can be.

The songs are often unsettling but gently so; “Photograph,” a quintessentially sumptuous Air track about a deep obsession, suggests something a little disturbing occurring just out of frame. “Redhead Girl” is a lush reflection on unrequited love that slowly paralyzes with its attractiveness. Still, the disc is mostly hook-free, all subtle insinuations rather than the more fleshed-out songs of albums past.

The overall sound is labored and gorgeous, but also a bit hard to recall once the record is over and done with. In other words, the symphony is here, and is accomplished and generally likeable, but it’s not possible to pocket and pawn off as pop. “Pocket Symphony” probably won’t yield any hedonistic hits in the vein of Air’s previous work, but it could successfully be the soundtrack to many a lonely rainy day.