“ONCE UPON A TIME”
February 28, 2007
Greetings from chilly New Jersey! It’s Andy Gesner and the staff at HIP Video Promo, back once again a spellbinding European musical treat courtesy of our friends at Astralwerks. Is there any electronic pop act better loved in America than Air? For years, the French duo have been dazzling us with their craft, their style, their sound, their production, and their unrivaled ability to coax the soul out of the machine. Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel are theorists as well as trendsetters, and ambassadors as well as artists. With each subsequent album they’ve redefined themselves – yet, somehow, they make music that never sounds like anything other than Air. On their landmark Moon Safari, they erased the distinctions between techno, pop, IDM, and underground rock, and crafted a set beloved by independents of all genres. For an encore, the duo recorded a soundtrack so cinematic and indelible that it now feels inseparable from the movie it accompanied (The Virgin Suicides). 10,000 Hz Superstar contained soundscapes so lush and radiant that we’re getting the chills just by thinking about them. And Talkie Walkie, their most recent full-length, applied Air’s wide-screen production aesthetic to ten pop gems.
Now the Parisians are back with Pocket Symphony, their fifth album (and their first since their critically-lauded collaboration with Charlotte Gainsbourg, the daughter of their hero, Serge). While Dunckel spent much of 2006 working on a solo record – the fantastic, offbeat Darkel – Godin broadened his already-impressive instrumental range by studying koto and shamisen with an Okinawan master musician. As it turns out, those traditional Japanese instruments generate sounds that aren’t all that dissimilar from the delicate electronic and synthetic textures captured on Air’s albums. On Pocket Symphony, the koto and shamisen blend harmoniously with the Minimoog and sampler, producing a synthesis of the organic and the electronic that feels like pure Air.
As always, they’ve brought friends to the party: Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon both make appearances on Pocket Symphony, and heralded producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck) works his magic behind the boards. But on “Once Upon A Time”, the lead single, Godin and Dunckel take the lead themselves. Dunckel floats an ethereal melody over a winding piano riff, and paints the corners with warm reverb, bright synthesizer, and the distinctive sounds of the traditional instruments. Air has always been a terrific singles band, and a group that can make an impression on a listener very quickly – consider how many of their songs have been used in television programs and commercials – and “Once Upon A Time” seems destined to join “Sexy Boy”, “La Femme D’Argent”, “Surfing On A Rocket”, and “Run” in the ledger of instant transatlantic classics. Once again, the duo has crafted a sound and atmosphere that others will be chasing for years to come.
There’s understated elegance to everything that Godin and Dunckel do, and their videos – and visuals – have always reflected that. The clip for “Once Upon A Time” captures Air in performance, but it’s not a naturalist piece. Every shot is stylized, and every instrument the musicians play is isolated and made to look luminous and stunning. The band plays against a pitch-black background; they’re lit from beneath, or from above. The camera rotates slowly around the players, as if each is a luxury automobile in a show-room, or a sculpture on display in a gallery. In one memorable shot, Godin and Dunckel are captured back to back, and the warm glow of the lights traces their silhouettes as the room spins around them. And the traditional instruments are here, too; arcane, exotic, beautiful, their strings plucked by a Japanese woman. Each axe – and each player – appears as an integral part of the tapestry, and a gear in a great clockwork mechanism calibrated to tell a sonic fairytale.
One of HIP’s biggest highlights of 2006 was championing Astralwerks many buzz bands, including Placebo, The Kooks, Phoenix, Radio 4, and others! We are proud and elated to be working with Nick Klint to bring you the new Air “Once Upon A Time” video. Although dates have yet to be announced, plans are being made for an American tour. We’ll keep you posted. For more info, you can e-mail info@HIPVideoPromo.com or visit www.astralwerks.com or call Andy Gesner at 732 613-1779.