Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin of Air are no strangers to film music. They did the music for Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides and contributed to both her subsequent Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette<, and their early Moog-drenched fantasias have always been so cheesily retro-futuristic that they could have come packaged with the décor from 2001, or more appropriately, Sleeper. But even the rapturously recherché synth slabs of 1998's Moon Safari—or even better, the subtler, silkier likes of the 1996 EP Premier Symptomes or 2004's Talkie Walkie—didn't scream "soundtrack" the way the new Pocket Symphony does.
It's telling that one of the songs here is titled "Somewhere Between Walking and Sleeping," because that's the state most of Pocket Symphony evokes. Nearly everything here is ready-made for envisioning limpidly soft-focused bicyclists riding together through meadows and falling in love under the stars, circa 1973. Many of the songs are built on endlessly circling piano and finger-picked nylon-string guitar—not only have Air gone not-electronic, they've gone acoustic, with synths mostly used to highlight the stated melodies, as on "Once Upon a Time" and "Lost Message." But what's most impressive is how guileless Dunckel and Godin make it sound. They're aiming for a kind of naïve beauty, and they hit it consistently here.
This isn't to say they ignore rhythm. "Napalm Love," the album's best song, is built from the bassline outward, its up-and-down melodic shape gaining a new shade—woodblock percussion, electro-celeste, backward strings—with each iteration. "Mer du Japon" is a groove record like they used to make routinely in the mid-'70s, with bass, piano, and drums driving an implacable mid-tempo riff though ambient desert heat. But most of Pocket Symphony is more tranquil, a gauzy beauty that gains in definition the closer you listen.