CD Reviews

AIR

Talkie Walkie

(Astralwerks)

Nobody did keyboard fetishism quite like Air did in the late '90s; every album they released back then sounded like Moog demonstration records with an overt intimation of post-psych Eurostile chic. For an aesthetic that sounded like the score to a semisoftcore Europorn flick with a Centre Pompidou backdrop, it did a fine job of establishing Air's persona—the wispy jet-set composers of the trans-Atlantic leisure-class lifestyle. But somewhere along the way, their minimalist lounge-jazz became cluttered with ill-fitting Bowie-isms and oafish comedy, and latter-day releases like 10,000 Hz. Legend made the fatal mistake of lacquering a veneer of kitsch over a sound better played straight. As penance, Air have purged the Fender Rhodes ambience they made their name on and stripped their sound to the barest of minimalist electro essences. The best way to get a feel for the mood of Talkie Walkie is to proceed immediately from the first track to the last—"Venus" features a downtempo thump-thump-clap piano-driven rhythm that sounds like a leisurely tennis game in a cathedral, while the practically beatless "Alone in Kyoto" reveals a hidden green world lit by neon Fujifilm billboards. Between those two extremes lies a litany of twinkly pixie crunk, tubular bellicosity, melody saws, space-march goth, and, courtesy of "Cherry Blossom Girl" and "Surfin' on a Rocket," androgyne pop vocals from a distant-future Top 40 countdown that accidentally boomeranged through a Brigitte Bardot radio broadcast on its slingshot path to today. NATE PATRIN

JUNIOR BOYS

High Come Down

(Kin, U.K.)

It'd be inappropriate to call England's Junior Boys IDM's last great hope. For one thing, they write songs (with good singing, no less); for another, they sound like they've turned on a radio sometime during the last five years. "Birthday"—from the 2003 EP of the same name—smeared the slushy emotion they had melted away from electroclash's frozen heart over two-step garage and nu-R&B. "Last Exit," from the same EP, was a dead blackberry bush of "soul," thorny beats clustering around the last bits of fragile life. The new High Come Down EP is simultaneously the best thing the trio has done so far (the title track) and a frustrating swerve away from the group's strengths (the rest). Under wilting bamboo music filched from David Sylvian and narcotized blue-eyed soul, the title track's beat flutters like an eyelash kiss, pausing at the end of each bar to find its stolen breath. Fresh off 2003's most overrated album (indie-rock division), Manitoba's Dan Snaith overlays his Plaid-esque remix of "Birthday" with a clanking loop (tin cans tied to a bicycle?) that destroys any sense of groove. The minimal "Under the Sun" electro-throbs like a pulsing vein, with the ghosts of the Latin Rascals lurking overhead. And "A Certain Association" plunges us into the monolith completely, a beatless deep space formerly explored by the Aphex Twin circa Selected Ambient Works II. The Boys were far and away the best of 2003's class of indie-electronica mergers; let's hope they don't forget the songs come album time. JESS HARVELL

BOBBY CONN WITH THE GLASS GYPSIES

Homeland

(Thrill Jockey)

The double-gatefold concept-album generation was promised a shrinking world. Now, that's what we've got: a global hamlet where everybody spies on each other and armed-response teams enforce the curfews. Right now, even Philip K. Dick would be hard-pressed to fabricate new, improved paranoia. Maybe it isn't fabricated, though. For example, there are people who know that Chicago's Bobby Conn is telling the truth. An ebullient religious fanatic recently informed me that Nazareth's "Vancouver Shakedown" was the most important song ever recorded, because "Vancouver's in B.C., right? And all the Vancouver government numbers are on the 666 exchange!" For the Antichrist, though, B.C.'s sure got weird initials. Original prog-metal-funk god Gino Vanelli observes serenely and transdimensionally—like the one-eyed pyramid on Homeland's cover—from the era when eclectic albums weren't being created daily and you could still get through an airport check-in without having a mandatory anal probe. On Homeland, Conn is the Sparks-that-cares on "We're Taking Over the World" ("I'm so proud to take the blame/I am a Mason to the 33rd degree"), and he betters even that with "Home Sweet Home," a piano ballad like Mötley Crüe's. Although Conn makes a better Roger Waters than Nikki Sixx did, producer John McEntire is no Bob Ezrin. The ballads are great, as usual, but this time the prog-metal is better than the funk. As alien pharaonic conspiracy records go, you could file this between Funkadelic's America Eats Its Young and Alan Parsons Project's Pyramid. But that might not even be necessary, because whoever the Illuminati actually are, they've decided to turn the world into a Bobby Conn record. Gee, thanks. DAVE QUEEN

 
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