21
Jun 01

DREAM IN THE DREAM WITH ME – Air: 10000Hz Legend

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We live in the future, baby, you and me. How does this make you feel? The centuries have been erected with this very goal in mind, thousands of years of popular culture have been building up to this. Time had been enjoying a prolonged childhood for too long now; turning 21, with all of its accompanying freedoms and responsibilities, so intoxicated mankind that seers, artists, authors, musicians, and poets have been foretelling its coming since the last time the clock zeroed out, some hundred years ago.

Initially, the dreams were fairly modest. Skyscrapers? Motorized transportation? Flight? As each dream became reality, writers of fiction and fancy upped the ante, envisioning buildings that kissed the heavens, cars that flew, and men on the moon. Within each of these inventions, ambitious yet flawed, fantastical minds could see each form idealized; trapped inside the rough creation, they saw the future straining to escape. As the years were hammered away from these innovations like excess marble from a statue, perfection escaped only to see itself de mode at birth, its patrons having moved on to new whims.

The sound of gunshots and bombs awakened the dreamers to the nightmare that was real life. Alarmed by our ever-increasing capabilities for self-destruction, their visions becoming bleaker as war and fear took hold of the globe in its thankfully tenuous grasp. The future, if there was one (if), was plagued with conflagrations that threatened all of humanity and invaders from the sky, “aliens” (gee, who could that be…). To the young mind, with no concept of real fear or pain, blissfully unaware of that adult-word “consequences,” this all undoubtedly seemed great. The new millennium seemed like it was going to be a pretty fucking cool place to be. Having lived through it all, as a youth, no less, and therefore naturally given to romanticization and idealization, I can tell you this much: The future ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Name me ten important ways in which life in ’01 is different from life in ’91. Sure, MP3s are great, but cell phones alone are argument enough against progress. We should be living on Mars or the moon, at the very least, not trapped in our bedrooms on T1 lines. I mean, for fuck’s sake, Dippin’ Dots are still the ice cream of the future and the Visi-Phone has yet to become readily available. To quote William H. Gass, “I was born…For this? I dress. I wash. For this?” To quote the t-shirt that, to the best of my knowledge, exists but in my mind: “My parents saw the new millennium and all I got was this crappy t-shirt.”

Where’s my robot butler? The kid in Rocky had one and that was, what, 20 years ago?

What? Air? Yes! I haven’t forgotten them. Let me attempt to tie all of this up as neatly as possible. With their last album, Air soundtracked the film, The Virgin Sucides, a tale of suburban angst and ennui in the 70s; with this new album, 10,000Hz Legend, they’ve created the soundtrack for the 21st century. Not the one we live in, no: it’s the soundtrack for the future as imagined by bored kids, stoned out of their minds, in the suburbs of the 1970s: It’s the soundtrack for modern folks who hoped things would’ve turned out a bit differently

Study the sleeve-art: It tells you much of what you need to know about the album. It looks like Arizona, sure, but let’s call it Mars instead. If one were granted access into the compound in which the two blurred gentlemen appear, they’d hear 10,000Hz Legend wafting through the speakers — it’s space age bachelor music (as opposed to the — capitals and italics important — Space Age Bachelor Pad Music of their debut LP Moon Safari). Perhaps, while you’re enjoying your wine and cheese — some customs never die — one of the cute boys of Air will play you a piece or two.

The future, as Air have chosen to interpret it, is like Blade Runner in the hands of Hanna-Barbara or David Lynch helming a live-action Jetsons. In this future, Air have written themselves out of the picture; the music is instead performed by robots that they program themselves. For 10,000Hz Legend, they’ve set the dial for Prog-Rock and it’s prog as only a robot could render it. Like the robots, my knowledge of prog is limited to the input I’ve received (human speak: what I’ve read or been told about it): I’ve never knowingly heard a prog record, though Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas,” which served to turn me against said jolly fat man, may count, I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that the All Music Guide defines it thusly:

Progressive Rock…incorporates elements of European and classical music to rock & roll music, resulting in long, complex instrumental passages and dramatic, grandiose flourishes

Sounds good, eh? In this definition, there’s no mention of capes or smoke machines or H.G. Wells or wizards or ice skating or King Arthur. The robots, then, have taken all that was good about prog and distilled it into 10,000 Hz Legend. And since they’re robots and therefore INFALLIBLE, they’ve rendered it perfectly: the Kraftwerk (the original robots!) pulse of “Electronic Performers”; the lethargic beauty and electronic poignancy of “How Does it Make You Feel?”; first single “Radio #1″‘s electro-glam thud; from a different 2001, “Radian” is the cry of the Monolith — vengeful and mournful; and OMD covering “Live and Let Die,” better known as “Don’t Be Light.” It’s not all good: Beck is best left in the past and “Wonder Milky Bitch” isn’t sexy or funny, it’s just cringeworthy and ill-conceived. Since they’re on for so much of the record, I’ll give the robots the benefit of the doubt, and ascribe it to: HUMAN ERROR.

While the future constructed by Air does indeed sound like a great place what with its complex instrumental passages and grandiose flourishes, its technology and advances can be a bit frightening to simple-minded folk like you or I, merely a hair’s breadth away from the 20th century. That’s why it’s so refreshing, so reassuring to discover that the future, despite all of its advantages, still deals with many of the problems we ourselves wrangle with on a daily basis. Like a lack of communication; an inability to explain one’s self properly to the one they love; the difficulty of finding something good on the radio; the hassle and stress created by a regimented life; and despairing over where to find a good blow job nowadays. Their problems are our problems, and vice versa!

In many ways, then, they are still the Air we’ve known (and loved!) for some time now. Many reviewers and “critics,” lazy types mostly, have exclaimed that the new album represents a “new direction” for the band (and a number of them hint that it’s the “wrong” one. “Prog-Rock?” More like Frog-Rock. And I say that with love). If Moon Safari was lyrics/music: Bacharach/Wilson/Gainsbourg, 10,000Hz Legend can be attributed to: Gainsbourg/Eno/R. Waters. The major difference is that all of the homages to Bacharach, the rage at the time, have been replaced by a more atmospheric, expansive production style. What they’ve always been — and still are — are modern kids bringing old music into the future. The future they bring the sounds of the past into is alluring, one that while very little like our own, illuminates just what makes modern life brilliant and depressing. It reminds us that we’ve not yet seen the future: despite what we think, it’ll always be one step ahead of us (and ahead of this record!); we may never see it, but from their privileged position, Air assure us that it’s still something worth dreaming about, something that should, with a gleam in our eyes, always be looked forward to. Or at least that’s how it makes me feel.

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