This installment of the LateNightTales series pairs up with Jean-Benoît Dunckel's solo project as the total fall publicity for Air. It's also one of the best of this type of mix I've heard in a while. For one thing, Air have taken the "Late Night" part of the title very seriously, making for an incredibly functional, utilitarian mix. Only a very few tracks here have anything approaching a conventional drum kit, and a good portion of the set consists of moody film-score work and orchestral pieces: These songs are matched up on their slow movement and their spare, deliberate sound. The result is uniformly pensive and weighty, painted in deep, dark colors-- a mix for the deadest hours of night.
And since Air have always been pop songwriters more than any kind of "electronic" act, they manage to offer a terrific picture of the music that informs their own recordings. The most colorful track here is Minnie Ripperton's still-gorgeous "Lovin' You", a track whose twinkling 70s keys are an obvious antecedent to Air's Moon Safari. (They also sound so pure and natural that it's hard to remember why that album had to give them the occasional ironic wink.) There are also plenty of examples of the kind of very-grave, very-French baritone drama that clearly informs the group's later albums. The way Japan's "Ghosts" suspends David Sylvian's voice over an abyss, with only the odd keyboard accent to keep it company; the way Scott Walker and Lee Hazlewood rumble their way through deep reverb over plush arrangements-- what else would you expect Air to be listening to?
The band's choices here turn out to be consistently interesting, too, and should prove worthwhile even to someone who already digs through this kind of stuff on her own. Sofia Coppola might have beat them to anthologizing the Cure's "All Cats Are Grey", and a Cat Power chestnut in the middle kind of breaks the spell, but the majority of the picks are damned clever. Jeff Alexander's "Come Wander With Me" seems like it should be some vintage English or Greenwich-Village folk, until you look it up and find out it was composed for an episode of The Twilight Zone. There's some of the sedate, flanged-out psychedelic music people forget Black Sabbath tended to make. The folky second half skips from a Robert Wyatt lullaby to Elliott Smith to the Troggs' whispery "Cousin Jane"-- something like the Stones' "I Am Waiting" if it never got around to the rock part. There's a string piece from the Chinese composer Tan Dun, a bit of Nino Rota, a suddenly sunny break from Sébastien Tellier, and-- for the closer-- the Cleveland Orchestra playing Ravel.