I don't claim to be on the forefront of all musical genres and dance or electronic music is generally well outside the scope of my musical antenna. But someone recently recommended I check out the sonic textures of Air (best known for their dark soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides) and I sluggishly just added their latest album, 10,000 Hz Legend to my collection.
This album is definitely not dance and not electronica, although elements of both are included. Rather, these are surreal instrumentals that drift between bizarre and captivating. There are always a number of interesting layers and sounds to capture your imagination and the song structures, if these can be called songs, have a natural and easy flow.
"Radio #1" is the only track that remotely follows the radio-approved formula so it is fitting that this funked-out sing-along with a creepy female voice and catchy chorus is the chosen single. The first of two sci-fi cyberdroid songs is "Electronic Performers" which fluctuates with deep bass rumblings, thick electronic handclaps, Level 42 piano, and distorted, androgynously female vocals. "How Does It Make You Feel?" is the male answer with the computerized voice from Radiohead's "Fitter, Happier" (also known as Speaking Sam) whispering words of longing that becomes a memorable chorus melody sung by Jellyfish's Roger Joseph Manning Jr.
If you loved The Virgin Suicides, the trio of "Radian", "Lucky N Unhappy" and "Sex Born Poison" will make you happy, or suicidal, as they fit right in with nearly twenty minutes of gloomy minor chords, eerie computerized whirring, sections of Burt Bacharach-inspired string bliss, pulsing synth bass, and enough vocal effects to frighten a barrel of virgins. Beck appears on a few tracks, most notably "Vagabond" which sounds much like a b-side from Mutations with a near country 'n' Western sound that mid-way through becomes a tripped out Air song, and "Don't Be Light" which combines bubbly beats with distorted guitars and luscious strings in a true Beck/Air collaboration.
While not something I plan to listen to every day for the next month, 10,000 Hz Legend is an imaginative aural experience that stylistically is all over the map. But if you're one who doesn't mind experimental music is a variety of styles within the same short space, definitely check this album out. Better yet, give it a listen through headphones under the glow of a lava lamp for a full experience.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, November 2002.