To celebrate two decades together, French electronic duo Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel have put together ‘Twentyears’, a two-disc retrospective compilation featuring handpicked hits, album tracks, rarities and unreleased material. Most people will know Air through their hugely successful 1998 debut, the ubiquitous ‘Moon Safari’, which combined retro synths, film scores, lounge music and 70’s prog influences into effortlessly cool and classy ambient pop, propelling “chill-out” music into mainstream consciousness. Its reach was widespread, but despite its popularity ‘Moon Safari’ has been a bit of a double-edged sword, casting a shadow over much of their follow-up material. While its true that the duo haven’t produced anything quite as brilliant since, 2000’s film score for Sofia Coppola‘s ‘The Virgin Suicides’ and 2004’s ‘Talkie Walkie’ are proof that Air are more than mere one-album wonders.
Disc-one focuses on material from their nine studio albums, with over half of its seventeen-tracks taken from just two LPs, ‘Moon Safari’ and ‘Talkie Walkie’. Five of their debuts ten-tracks are featured, including their two biggest hits ‘All I Need’ and ‘Sexy Boy’, with ‘Ce Matin La’ being the most notable absence from their masterpiece. There’s also five-tracks from ‘Talkie Walkie’ that make the cut, including singles ‘Cherry Blossom Girl’ and ‘Alpha Beta Gaga’. There’s surprisingly little room for material from ‘The Virgin Suicides’ however, with ‘Playground Love’ being the only track selected. This leaves space for only six-tracks from their six remaining albums, with the highlights being two piano-led pieces, the spooky ‘Moon Fever’ from 2012’s score for the 1902 silent classic ‘Le Voyage Dans la Lune’, and the more uptempo ‘Once Upon a Time’ from 2007’s ‘Pocket Symphony’.
Disc-two focuses on rarities and unreleased material, with its fourteen-tracks offering a deeper and more varied look at the duo’s work. Highlights include two-tracks taken from the ‘Pocket Symphony’ sessions, with the beautiful ‘Crickets’ and the strange yet interesting duet with Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jarvis Cocker on ‘The Duelist’. Air show their humorous side on the stylish ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ which was only a bonus track on ‘10,000 Hz Legend’, 2001’s more experimental follow-up to ‘Moon Safari’. Speaking of their debut, three-tracks also come from its 10th anniversary edition including a 1998 BBC recording of ‘J’ai dormi sous l’eau’. The two previously unreleased tracks also hold up well, with the piano and harmonica-led ‘Roger Song’, originally written for the 2011 documentary ‘Corman’s World’, and the downbeat jazz of ‘Adis Abebah’ which was made for the 2010 film ‘Quartier Lointain’.
Over half of disc-one may contain material from just two albums, but there would have been little point in releasing a 20-year retrospective compilation without including key tracks from ‘Moon Safari’ and ‘Talkie Walkie’. Taken as a whole, ‘Twentyears’ does a very good job of showcasing the duo’s popular material alongside their more varied and experimental leanings while maintaining a high level of quality throughout.
‘Twentyears’ is out now via Parlophone France
This Air article was written by Daniel Kirby, a GIGsoup contributor.