Over the last decade or so, Air have become icons of stylish pop. Their releases feature mood-setting, atmospheric songs with specific poise that could basically have only come from France. Pocket Symphony, their fifth album, takes their fashion-forward sound a step further, into the depths of slower, more delicate melodies. The album is a deceleration of the more artistic rock of their previous releases, and presents a thoroughly down-tempo, dark sound.
Pocket Symphony employs several of Air’s unique sounds but in such a conscientiously low-key fashion that the album feels much more one-dimensional than others in the past. It begins with "Space Maker", which bears a light, wooden rhythm and acoustic guitar that ultimately relent to a thin, violin and sparse piano chord combination. On the third track, "One Hell of a Party", Jarvis Cocker lends his weary vocals to a gentle piano and sleepy rhythm. The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon appears on "Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping", which is an orchestral lullaby with a very appropriate name. These is the kind of tunes that will last from the post-party through the hangover.
Jean-Benoît Dunckel’s trademark feathery vocals make a few appearances on Pocket Symphony, giving the album its pop feel. "Photograph" is a sparkling intersection of piano, guitar, and xylophone that glides under’s Dunckel’s boyish voice. "Mer Du Japon", the most up-tempo track, coasts on a repetitive, piano-driven rhythm while Dunckel fragily highlights certain spots. These vocal moments, however, lack real force or emotion, and are few and far between.
While incorporating a lot of their signature sounds, Air has created an album with a pulse that remains heavily subdued. Unfortunately, Pocket Symphony feels like someone pulled the foundation out from under them. The album is wholly reserved, and lacking much of the vigor that they’ve utilized so well. The songs are pleasant and unassuming, but Pocket Symphony requires about the same amount of attention that one wants while recovering from a long night. Like the highly fashionable world Air portrays with this album, it’s lonely and weak, and too much of this style can be a drag.