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Keep Watching the Stars

Astralwerks gives Air's Moon Safari the 10th-birthday treatment.

Air's Moon Safari would knock Marcel Proust's dick in the dirt. The distinguished French author would fete the equally distinguished French pop-men for the group's association with one of his pet concepts: involuntary memory. Rather, both Proust and Air explore the idea that everyday life can evoke pure recollections of one's past without conscious effort.

Moon Safari, repackaged by Astralwerks as part of its 10th anniversary, has a similar effect upon the listener. The album's richly layered electronica is indebted to duo Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel's ADD afflictions when it came to instrumentation — they ran their hands across everything from Minimoogs and Mellotrons to pan flutes and glockenspiels. And it summons countless memory-banked artists and songs. Much like Proust's finest prose, Moon Safari's pull derives from how the present is regularly suffused by the past, at times the two becoming indivisible.

The vocoders and overdubbed clavinet and synthesizers on "Kelly Watch the Stars" conjure up formaldehyde memories of Italo disco. In "All I Need," the supine groove, empyrean female vocals (Beth Hirsch lent her pipes), and lyrical pang revive the schizophrenic, dead moments of trip-hop. Then there's tracks such as the Wurlitzer-brushed "Remember," which leaves the resting place of Gallic synth-wave predecessors — astral, melody-obsessed aesthetes like Jean Michel Jarre ("Oxygene Part IV") and Jean-Jacques Perrey ("E.V.A.") — and rises to achieve a new pop consciousness.

However, Moon Safari's powers extend beyond climatic resurrection. There's no linear approach to the album; Air stacks genres like playthings (from darkwave to New Wave to ambient), and when they topple, the moments bring a frisson of delight. "Sexy Boy," with an unanticipated Korg MS-20 synthesizer solo so pretty you don't want to move for fear of missing one beautiful note; and the tuba croaks on "Ce Matin La," which sounds as splendidly out-of-place as a belch at your standard crystal-and-china dinner party.

Moon Safari floats lazily in the firmament of our world yet is firmly grounded by basic pop structure. Biographer Jean-Yves Tadie once said, "Loneliness was the grammar of Proust's life." For Air, it was restlessness: with cadence and style, with this earth, with the entrapping present.

 
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