In the Air tonight

Paris pop duo Air gets French kissed and French fried on 10,000 Hz Legend

This album is very much from our wet dreams, says Jean-Benoit Dunckel, one half of the Parisian duo Air, of his group’s new album, 10,000 Hz Legend.

While Air have more in common with ’70s prog-rock than ’80s soft rock, Dunckel’s assertion somehow triggers an unexpected new reading of Phil Collins’ hit “In the Air Tonight”: “I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord. I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord.”

It also brings to mind the old French literary euphemism le petite morte, the “mini-death” which describes the paradoxically creative act that is the sexual climax.

The connection? New things have indeed come in the night for Dunckel and his songwriting partner Nicolas Godin, who debuted with 1998’s Moon Safari and followed with music for the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides. In addition to more dreamlike compositions, 10,000 Hz Legend’s creation is the product of a mini-death — the demise of the restrained, demure persona that characterized Air’s initial recordings.

“We are completely fed up with the image of Moon Safari,” says Dunckel, “because you know Moon Safari was very French — very nice, very polite, always in the same mood. And we wanted to build this new album like a movie with plenty of different atmospheres.”

Dunckel, in fact, explains the creative process in almost sexual terms. “When you work on a track, you feel a certain fever coming in your mind — the magic moment of creation,” he says. “And I think this is really a fever album. You can feel it in all the recordings. There is a strange vibration. The vibration of creation is linked to your subconscious and your dreams, and we think this album is very much from our dreams.”

If Air’s feverish wet dream was to follow Radiohead’s lead by breaking from expectations and testing fans, with 10,000 Hz Legend the band succeeds wildly. Perhaps because it was recorded in a cramped Parisian studio (as opposed to Moon Safari’s Versailles countryside setting), the album’s filtered robotic voices and songs about blowjobs are far from Moon Safari’s mellow Bacharach-influenced look of love.

Overhauling their gear to facilitate a fresh start, Air for the most part ditched the demure for the digital on 10,000 Hz Legend, replacing the previous analog-keyboard warmth with dirtied beats, hums and treated guitars. While the band’s search for beauty remains, much of 10,000 Hz Legend’s staticy ping-pong often comes across as dirge-like.

“When we started to record this new album we wanted to do something very deep, very emotional,” says Dunckel. “Since the beginning we knew that we had to change or die because we are not a singles radio band. The best way to be a real band is to do something completely original.”

Air believe their quest for originality through modernization helps distance them from other so-called “French Touched” bands (the British label for the new wave of French groups resurrecting classic romanticism), which includes Sebastien Tellier, Air’s opening act on tour and the first signing to the duo’s label, Record Makers. But despite Air’s iconoclastic approach, Dunckel can’t seem to distance himself from giving some stereotypically romantic French answers when discussing the meanings behind some of the songs on 10,000 Hz Legend.

“We are very selfish,” says Dunckel. “We only think about ourselves and I think that some tracks are autobiographical. We want sometimes to confess to our girls, but we are shy and sometimes do not have the time. Sometimes it’s very difficult to really speak to your lover, so we did it with this track, ‘How Does it Make You Feel?’ If you check the lyrics, it’s very much a man talking to a girl — they are lovers and they live together. Some of the tracks are like that, very autobiographical,” says Dunckel, whom, like Godin, lives unmarried with his girlfriend, the mother of his children.

Along with veiled sketches of domesticity, slightly cynical tales of watching the world pass in the Parisian streets and radio’s need for saviors lurk on 10,000 Hz Legend. As exemplified by the cover — a proggish sci-fi illustration of Air isolated within the desolate confines of a rebel radio station — little of 10,000 Hz Legend is as immediate and personable as Moon Safari. Live, however, Air bring a five-piece band and plan to present their music more cheerfully and intimately than on their last tour.

“For [the tour supporting] Moon Safari, we wanted to escape from the soft sections of the music,” says Dunckel, “but now we feel more confident in ourselves and we want to keep the same music, the same compositions. So [on the 10,000 Hz Legend tour] we just want to do something very ambient, very groovy, very loud, very melodic. Very much in the darkness of the light.”

If Air’s carefree approach on Moon Safari ended in a failed romance, the more laborious birth of 10,000 Hz Legend charts that wistful, introspective loss of innocence after their wet dreams climaxed. Air should consider themselves blessed: To be given the chance to recreate and procreate, some people have to wait all their life, oh Lord.

Air perform at Earthlink Live Mon., June 18. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25, available through Ticketmaster. For more information, call 404-885-1365.??