From the Chemical Brothers to Massive Attack, electronic artists are no strangers to the power of the female voice, but none has used it to as sexy effect as Air. What’s most striking about the group’s 10-year-old debut, Moon Safari, in retrospect, isn’t that it made art out of fluff (which it did), but that it was the most distinctly feminine album of its kind (and created by two Frenchmen, natch). The obsessive detail of Nicolas Godin and Jean Benoit’s sonic dreamscapes give themselves up completely to Beth Hirsch’s faux-poetic musings. It’s no wonder It girls like Charlotte Gainsbourg and Sofia Coppola were drawn to the band: Hirsch stands just close enough to the mic in “All I Need” so that you can hear her lips smacking together, a technique recycled by Gainsbourg on her Air-produced debut 5:55. Likewise, no one could flatter Coppola’s cloistered, porcelain-doll aesthetic better than Air, who wrote the theme song to her Virgin Suicides, which—like the song—is a mood piece about high school romance that’s as beautiful as it is agonizing to behold.
Air’s name is almost appallingly appropriate. Every sound on the album—from the waterfall intro of “La Femme d’Argent,” to the gently plucked guitar in “All I Need,” to the faint horn hook of “Ce Matin La”—lushly falls into place, escalates, and then dissipates into some kind of slickly produced ether. It’s not exactly deep, but the genius of Godin and Benoit is how meticulously they conjure a totally new universe. The keyboard flights of fancy in “La Femme d’Argent” give way to the grungier synths of “Sexy Boy” and Hirsch yearning “to be held and understood” on “You Make It Easy,” as the song sends her off on a wispy breeze. At the same time that it’s space-y and breathless, it’s also organic and downbeat; at the same time that it’s nostalgic, it’s also clearly planted in the future. Even if Moon Safari isn’t exactly a challenging listen, it’s an endlessly gorgeous one. Where the Chemical Brothers’ Come with Us is a pounding, acid-induced head trip, Moon Safari is a roofie slipped into your Cosmopolitan.