For two decades, the French duo of Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel have been devoted in their focus to suspend focus via series after series of downtempo synths and treated, blissful vocals—so much so that it seems out of character for them to celebrate their legacy with a high-gloss deluxe anthology. It’s damn near ostentatious for Air anyway. It does, however, help knowing that they were the ones to actually construct Twentyears in all of its grandeur. It is certainly fucking grand: First comes a 17-track album of cuts accompanied by 14 more tracks of rarities and unreleased material, all to be followed in late July by an add-on of remixes of David Bowie, Depeche Mode, Beck, Neneh Cherry, and MGMT. Boy, oh boy, that’s a lot of Moog.
If you’re buying this anthology, you’re likely either Sofia Coppola or some other super fan of monochromatic outfits and ambiences that echo the scene of a late-’70s Vegas blackjack table, one accented by a burning Virginia Slim resting alongside a martini glass touched with red lipstick. The luster is often glamorous but usually not without a touch of seediness. As laid-back as it is, a track like opener “La Femme D’Argent,” from Air’s 1998 debut full-length Moon Safari, shimmies quite a bit—but in a totally nonchalant, debonair manner. The cool-strutting bass line paves the path as jazzy, improv-sounding piano flutters around and alien-noise squiggles slice into the synth breeze.
Pop-electronica big hits like “Playground Love” and “Sexy Boy” anchor the compilation, but the secondary and tertiary singles make the album move. An instrumental like “Alpha Beta Gaga,” from 2004’s Talkie Walkie, ratchets intensity in a way that’s both uplifting and cathartic. Waves of sprinting synth rhythms are painted over by triumphant whistles of strings, a banjo-like line of guitar, and a theremin whirr. Follow that up with the ambient “Moon Fever,” which features a cycling piano line that foregrounds swells and washes of synths—far enough away to be detectable but not quite understood.
Like most anthologies, the rarities and unreleased tracks are pure icing—nice to have but often superfluous, and more often rarities for a reason. From 2007’s Pocket Symphony, “The Duelist” features Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jarvis Cocker in a duet that’s fascinating mostly because of how peculiar and unsystematic the pairing sounds. The live versions and unreleased tracks on the second disc do little to add to the overall package. By the time you finally make it all the way through, the wish to hear a crash cymbal beaten into oblivion will be more real than you could ever imagine.