Two albums, two diametrically dissimilar approaches. Shearwater is emotional, muted and occasionally ecstatic, building their sound up around simple arrangements and melodies; Air is just about what you’d expect from a couple of French guys tooling around with a crapload of keyboards and effects and a soft spot for spacey atmospherics and lounge.
After three records of muted insularity (Palo Santo), explorations taken on the wing (Rook) and heady island-hopping over open water (Golden Archipelago), it was about time Shearwater got in touch with its baser impulses. The loosely unified “Island Arc” trilogy put to bed like a grim and intricate yet surprisingly brilliant fairy tale, the Texas-based trio led by Jonathan Meiburg (percussionist Thor Harris and bassist Kim Burke backing him) was in need of a change of pace, musically speaking. Whether the hurried Animal Joy embodies such a departure, or is just the appendix or final extension of a running focus, is matter for debate, but what it is – shimmering and raw, full and biting – is in any case remarkable, and a big deal for a group that began as an outlet primarily for softer output from Meiburg and onetime Shearwater member Will Sheff that didn’t have a home on records put out during their joint stint in Okkervil River.
And here’s Air, beginning with a clip from from the short (Georges Méliès’ iconic film of the same name) scored with their music:
Starting with rolling timpani deployed over a languid rhythm, injections of atmospheric, static-laden guitar and busy orchestral flourishes that pop up like pockets of space debris, veteran electronic duo Air’s Le Voyage Dans la Lune gets off to a familiar, if unremarkable, start. Granted, “Astronomic Club” is not much like “La Femme D’Argent” or even the Space Age dancehall jam “Venus” (kick-offs to their 1998 debut, the iconic Moon Safari, and 2004’s Talkie-Walkie, respectively), but in low-frequency noise and garbled sampling possesses a sort of understated cosmic charm. As is the rest of Le Voyage, the track is both buoyed by and tied up in indelible symbiosis with the source of its inspiration: Georges Méliès’ 1902 short film of the same name, to which Air’s Le Voyage was composed as a companion when a long-lost hand-colorized print of the pioneering cinematic narrative about six astronomers traveling to the moon was restored in 2010. (The restoration, with its new score, premiered at last year’s Cannes.) “Astronomic Club” never quite makes a solid landing though – clocking in at only three minutes and change, it’s too insubstantial to even form strong opinions of – a criticism that could also be leveled at the album as a whole, given its paltry 31-minute running time and somewhat lackluster delivery.
The rest: back on Spectrum.
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