Love 2

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For part of Air's Pocket Symphony tour, Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin played shows with only drummer Joey Waronker as support, forcing the band to strip its songs down to their essences. They stick with that lineup on Love 2, which delivers some of the most Air-like music to the band's name, and with good reason: this is the first time Dunckel and Godin have produced their own album. The duo tends to follow its more ambitious work with more accessible material and Love 2 is no exception, replacing Pocket Symphony's exotic, experimental bent with a renewed emphasis on the pair's quintessential sound. Godin and Dunckel dig deep into their arsenal of vintage electronic gear, topping those burbles, buzzes, and whooshes with some strings here and a few fuzzed-out guitars and basslines there. Above all, atmosphere is the focus, and early on, the album finds Air at their most confectionary: "Love" is irresistibly pretty, offsetting a glockenspiel that sparkles like grains of sugar with brisk shakers. From there, Love 2 sweeps away any remnants of Pocket Symphony's expansive melancholy with concentrated happiness -- these are some of Air's most lighthearted songs since Talkie Walkie. "Be a Bee," with its aptly buzzing and hovering synths and spy movie theme guitars, could be one of the most stylish novelty pop songs ever. However, the album is often at its best when Air give listeners more in the way of vocals and hooks. The elegantly psychedelic "So Light Is Her Footfall" and the hazy soft rock sunbeam that is "Sing Sang Sung" expand on the band's pop side just enough, while "Heaven's Light" crystallizes the gorgeous retro-futuristic sci-fi romance Air have crafted since their Premiers Symptomes days. Indeed, Love 2's title and album artwork -- which features the duo sitting by the shore gazing pensively into the mid-distance -- play up Air's image as makers of mood music extraordinaire, albeit with a bit of an ironic wink. The music does just as deft a job of negotiating the fine line between sophistication and schmaltz; Love 2's centerpiece, "Tropical Disease," has it both ways, going from dramatic to melodramatic to playful and back again as it covers rippling pianos, slightly goofy-sounding flutes, and a decidedly seductive coda. Dunckel and Godin add just a little tension and darkness to the album's sweetness and light as it unfolds, especially on "Eat My Beat," an impressive showcase for the immediacy Waronker's drumming brings to all of these songs. Air remain a deceptively subtle band, and repeated listens to Love 2 reveal that Godin and Dunckel aren't just remaining true to their aesthetic here, but that even a smaller-scale album from the duo has plenty of wit and surprises to offer.

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