Air - Moon Safari (Vinyl)

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Moon Safari is the debut studio album by French electronic music duo Air, released originally in 1997. Moon Safari was acclaimed by critics. It is credited with setting the stage for the budding downtempo music style of the late '90s. Ravers needed something to chill to at 6am!

There are a few albums in this world whose currency has become so devalued by repeated plays that they almost cease to exist. This reviewer hasn't really heard Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt Pepper's or OK Computer for years. Familiarity doesn't breed contempt, just nonchalance. And so it is with Air's Moon Safari.

Not only was it used as the background music for every lifestyle programme ever made in 1998 (and 1999, 2000, 2001...), but it sold in squillions, meaning that there's barely a music fan over 25 who doesn't own it or know every note. Of course, there's a reason for its ubiquity. It's great, and now in a sparkling, expanded version, 10 years on maybe we can listen properly again.

What Air achieved may seem simple now, but at the time was deceptively clever. In true Gallic fashion they melded cheese with cool, making the two indistinguishable. The bubbling synths, lush strings and funky loungecore Fender Rhodes: all were signifiers for the contemporary trend for reclaiming the easy listening schlock of the early 70s. But somehow Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel created the perfect blend for post-clubbing languor.

It's not just one great fondue though. Before the rise of the Guilty Pleasures franchise, these French kids were incorporating the the best of The Beach Boys and ELO, often on one track (Remember). Vocoders (Kelly Watch the Stars), doomy synth pads (Sexy Boy) and rippling acoustic guitars were all used, ironically or not. And when guest vocalist Beth Hirsch sang on All I Need, the tunes could almost break your stimulant-weary heart.

Eventually one senses that Moon Safari became the band's albatross. In later years even the writers felt the need to turn what would become to be known as a classic 'chillout' album into pummellingly loud concert numbers, just to get something new out of them. But at its heart this is a wonderfully pretty album, and as a precursor to the likes of Lemon Jelly and their ilk it remains a landmark.

It's up to you, the horizontal listener, as to whether you can still really hear it. Let's hope so…


In a way, Air never surpassed Moon Safari. And yet, in another way this comes so frustratingly short of being a real proper classic that I'm still probably more eager to listen to some of their other albums over this on a given day. The reputation of Moon Safari doesn't seem to be as big or notable as it used to be either, but its list of merits is notable. It launched Air straight to the top upon its release, it spearheaded (even if didn’t start) the chill-out trend that cropped up around the millennial years and it's still the main reason why Air continue to have a relatively high profile despite their public presence having faded some time ago already. Which is unfortunate, because the album really does deserve accolades.

For starters, if there's one thing in particular to note about Moon Safari is that it sounds wonderful. It's a cool and collected album, but the level of skill that Benoit and Dunckel display here is borderline boastfully arrogant. Not only are the general production and arrangements absolutely on point, but the ace in the hole is how the obvious retro throwback feel, hailing towards 60′s lounge and 70′s hi-fi studio wizardry, has been so well augmented with a modern flair that the album even now sounds fresh and in-date. While it arguably paved way for a lot of chill-out music and it sure is a laid back album, the overall tone is more about how cool it sounds - as if Air decided to take all the stereotypical notions of French cool and make it a real, tangible thing. Nothing exemplifies all this better than "La femme d'argent", arguably the album's signature song and its opener. It grooves with such smoothness that it slides off the speakers, painting a beautiful picture with its rich sonic palette as it ebbs and flows so effortlessly.

From there, Moon Safari goes from strength to strength. "Kelly, Watch the Stars" frolics through the air like a dance anthem that decided to take it easy one day (although, admittedly, I do prefer the peppier single mix); "All I Need" is the musical definition of a blissful summer's day; "Talisman" adds a touch of drama with its cinematic orchestral sweeps, and "Sexy Boy"... "Sexy Boy" really makes a point about that notion of confidence brought before. It's a ludicrous song, and really makes no sense between the throbbing bass, the distorted guitar walls, dreamland verses and Godin's sensual falsetto whispering about idealistic manliness into your ear. And yet the duo fully embrace the ridiculousness, convert it into effortless cool and even daringly slam it right after the incredibly classy "La femme d'argent". It has nothing to do with the rest of the album and yet without it Moon Safari would be a lesser deal.

But - and you knew there was going to be a 'but' - it's clear that the big signature moments were placed in front of the album and the latter half is more of a pleasant comedown from the initial heights. It still sounds lovely of course, and the pastoral "Ce matin la" and the stargazing bite-size pop nugget "Remember" are solid continuation from what came before. But then, as nice as "You Make It Easy" is it's still a reheated version of "All I Need" (same tricks, same singer, less impact) and as wistfully pretty as "New Star in the Sky" can get, it sways along a little too long for its own good without doing much for most of its duration. "Le voyage de Penelope" is so nondescript that after so, so many years of owning the album and literally having listened to it an hour before I started writing this paragraph, I still can't remember how it actually goes, which ends the album on a major flat note. Which is a shame because up until the last stretch of songs, Moon Safari was on a straight and clear path to the canon, and then it's just gone and muddled things up for itself. It’s why I always remember Moon Safari being incredible, but never feel quite as overwhelmed by it whenever I reach the end of the disc.

That Moon Safari doesn't quite reach its high ambitions is a little surreal, given how out of the ordinary it sounds nearly every step of the way. Not a lot of albums have gone these roads since even when they've mined the same inspirations, including anything by Air themselves, and that's a lot to do with how Godin and Dunckel manage to keep everything so timeless, blending together the old and the new and gluing them together with the golden-eared production. It'd be perfectly fair to call this Air's most essential album because it feels like the perfected form of what the duo have aimed to strive for, with all the subsequent developments since sounding like sidetracks. What they created here is something thoroughly lovely - a perfect sunset evening soundtrack, a head-nodding groove, a carefully detailed daydream. At that stage, debating whether this really is a classic or not seems almost like splitting hairs: it’s a lush experience nonetheless.

By: FlintGF

A1 La Femme D'Argent
A2 Sexy Boy
A3 All I Need
A4 Kelly Watch The Stars

B1 Talisman
B2 Remember
B3 You Make It Easy
B4 Ce Matin La
B5 New Star In The Sky
B6 Le Voyage De Penelope

A&R – Marc Teissier du Cros
Artwork [Production] – The Directors Bureau
Bass – N. Godin* (tracks: A1 to A3, B1 to B6)
Design – Mike Mills (2)
Electric Piano [Rhodes] – J.B. Dunckel*
Lacquer Cut By – Miles*
Mastered By – Nilesh Patel
Mixed By – Stéphane "Alf" Briat
Mixed By [Assistant] – Jérôme Blondel
Organ – J.B. Dunckel* (tracks: A1 to A3, B2, B3, B6), N. Godin* (tracks: A3)
Producer – Jean-Benoît Dunckel, Nicolas Godin
Recorded By – Jean-Benoît Dunckel, Nicolas Godin, Stéphane "Alf" Briat
Recorded By [Assistant] – Jérôme Kerner
Recorded By [Strings] – Peter Cobbin
Synthesizer [Solina String Ensemble] – J.B. Dunckel* (tracks: A1, A2, A4 to B6), N. Godin* (tracks: A3, B2)
Recorded at "Around the Golf" and at Gang, Paris. Mixed at Plus XXX Studios, Paris.
Strings recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London.
Mastered at The Exchange, London.
With printed inner sleeve containing lyrics, credits and images.