It comes as little surprise that the French retro-electro duo Air would fill out the time between albums with a soundtrack. Its mood-enhancing ambiance drips into set-placing grooves so smoothly that its magnum opus, Moon Safari, is practically a soundtrack itself -- maybe to some out-of-time foreign flick, maybe to a new-wave slice of life. Doesn't matter. The electronic rattle and hum that Air packs into its tunes has a purpose beyond the dance floor. And if it's not always cranium-challenging music, it is the best dose of electronica to be imported within the misguided, media-hyped techno boom/bust era.
This proper soundtrack -- to Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides -- plays some of the usual film-companion games along the way. Several of the 13 tracks rework themselves from a single theme, and the exploration of new musical terrain is pretty much nonexistent. Air was hired to produce, compose, and perform this score based on Moon Safari; anything straying too far from that model would miss the point of its being there in the first place. So Air more or less delivers Moon Safari as a soundtrack to accompany a film about five sisters' decline into despondency and its aftermath, with little of the playful winks that cheesed up (or down) its breakthrough. Which amounts to almost no airy vocals, no coy synth burps, and no funny flights of fancy.
Yet the somber tone that The Virgin Suicides sets is appropriate. This isn't exactly cheerful source material, and Air plays it straight throughout. The closing "Suicide Underground" combines psychoanalytical theorizing and a Floydish trip to the dark side of the moon for an atmospheric summation of The Virgin Suicides itself. The potential for black laughs is big here, but Air's Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel recount the girls' tale with such solemn narration that the big rock and roll ending doesn't feel so much like redemption as it does defeat. ("Playground Love," however, which features the only vocal track on the album -- by French singer Gordon Tracks -- manages to encompass the typical Air experience with wit intact.) Depressing stuff. And a fine, if occasionally flimsy, foray into a somewhat new stratosphere for its heavy-hearted creators. -- Michael Gallucci
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