Air’s new album requires a little context, so start with the DVD included in the special-edition package of Le Voyage Dans La Lune, which contains Georges Méliès’ complete 15-minute 1902 science-fiction classic A Trip To The Moon, restored from the lone remaining hand-colored print. Air was hired to provide a soundtrack to the restored film, a project that band members Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel knocked out in less than a month. That tight deadline may explain the overall slightness to the music on the Le Voyage Dans La Lune CD, which sounds like a pastiche of past Air records, mixing familiarly dreamy, cinematic orchestration with dark, stormy electronica.
Hearing the soundtrack wedded to the movie, though, the music makes more sense, serving to enrich the long shots of men in fancy duds milling about elaborate sets. As anyone who’s studied Méliès—or at least watched Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated Hugo—should know, the pioneering French filmmaker/magician used old stage effects and camera trickery to dazzle the eye, and largely kept the narrative out of the way of the spectacle. So Godin and Dunckel fill in some of those gaps, adding a propulsive beat and murmuring voices to lend some scenes more drama. They also recorded their soundtrack live, approximating Méliès’ all-in-one approach to composition.
The CD extends those music cues, adds vocals on a couple of tracks, and shuffles the order of the songs, attempting to make more of a proper album out of a few off-the-cuff grooves. The origins of the project remain inescapable though. After watching the movie, it’s hard not to picture a constellation with human faces while listening to the lilting “Seven Stars,” nor to hear the cosmic funk of “Sonic Armada” and not think encountering monsters deep within mushroom-festooned lunar caverns. But that’s okay. Le Voyage Dans La Lune may not be Air’s most innovative or boundary-testing album, but it’s one of the band’s most playful, as the duo take Méliès’ handmade H.G. Wells fantasies and use them a license to set loose their inner Pink Floyd (or at least their inner Alan Parsons Project). Le Voyage Dans La Lune is all about spacey atmospherics and cool-sounding mechanical clank, meant to lead the listener on a journey as whimsical and weird as the one Méliès led more than 100 years ago.