Air can be relied on to stick to a signature sound -- lush and dreamlike -- and still be able to wedge in a bit of new material.
In the case of "Pocket Symphony," they stick pretty much to the same formula as their previous release, "Talkie Walkie" -- sweet, slightly symphonic electropop that sounds like something to dream to Yeah, same ol'. Yet somehow that does't interfere with the enjoyability of this pretty, satiny music.
It opens with a hollow tapping and a soft acoustic riff melted into a piano melody. By the time the soft waves of synth kick in, the little melody is quietly hypnotic, as it expands into a shimmering little piano-synth epic... only to coil back up into its piano melody and hollow drumming.
That's "Space Maker," and it's only the warmup for the remaining songs. Air trips softly through a series of songs that are mainly gentle electropop, but with a few classical flourishes sprinkled throughout it. Piano, strings and a bit of horn all make their way into the music.
And they manage a few odd twists, which break the music out of its somnolent sound, and keep it from sounding monotonous -- rippling piano laced with twinkly synth, twisty synthpop, glitchy balladry, and an acoustic ballad or two with some soft keyboard. They even have the spare, twangy Asian-inspired sound of "One Hell of a Party."
Basically, "Pocket Symphony" has Air's trademark sound, which hasn't change substantially since the less soothing electronics of "10,000hz Legend," but they can spice it up with some unexpected twists and new sounds. Not a huge surprise, but very beautiful and soothing nonetheless.
The music itself is a shimmering weave of instrumentation and synth. The latter is pretty flexible, providing some ragged glitches, smooth waves, twiddles and twinkles. And it's wrapped around like a satin blanket over the soft guitar, a dash of horns and bells, and a sweep of soft strings just under the synth.
Not to mention that brilliant piano -- it can jab and ripple through the music. And the musicians have gained some new skills as well. Apparently Nicolas Godin learned to play some Japanese instruments, the koto and the shamisen, which add an exotic, angular edge to the smooth melodies.
"Pocket Symphony" doesn't go many new places, but it upholds Air's reputation for smooth, sophisticated electropop with the odd little moment of experimentation. Definitely a good listen.