Air – Premiers Symptomes: Like in a lounge on the Moon

Air [french band]’s first album in three years, Pocket Symphony, will be released in a handful of days. In preparation for that event, I thought it would be fun to take a trip through the French band’s back catalogue, starting with their earliest works, which range from the 1996 early singles to 1997’s debut album Premiers Symptomes.


Imagine it’s 1969 and your thoughts are aimed toward the future. Not your own personal future, but the future of mankind. Think thirty years or so, to that far off time known as 1999. In your mid-century mind, you picture the fantastic possibility that the frontier of human exploration lies beyond the Asteroid Belt and that people will be making regular trips into Earth orbit. You even think that the fringe of exotic vacations take place on the Moon, which is bustling with low-grav attractions. Swanky hotels, rover expeditions, high-jumping sports, perhaps a theme park and a casino (with blackjack of course).

In the evenings, after a day of enjoying all the leisure activities that the Moon has to offer, people gather in the Lunar Lounges to sip cocktails and make sophisticated conversation about how groovy it is to be on the Moon. As you picture all this, you hear an equally sophisticated music accompanying the chatter. In your head, it’s laid back and jazzy smooth with dreamy sparkling Mellotron melodies, which is of course the way music will sound in thirty years’ time…


That scene pretty much sums up the aura that surrounds Air’s early years, especially Premiers Symptomes. At just 5 songs and 27 minutes long, the record is short on length, but makes up for it by packing much groove. It’s nearly half an hour of perfectly sublime music. And the notion of being a spaced-out futuristic jazz ensemble on the Moon is epitomized with the album’s third song: Les Professionnels, which astute listeners will recognize as a proto-version of All I Need from Moon Safari.

Compared to the band’s later works, Premiers Symptomes’ songs are much simpler in form. There is less complex layering of sounds and the arrangements are more straight-forward. But it does a very good job of establishing Air’s distinct sound.

The 1999 re-release features two additional tracks Californie and Brakes On, which some people claim ruin the mood of the album. I can see their point, because those songs are as close to rock as Air has ever gotten and they do tend to take away from the disc’s ethereal atmosphere. But hey, it’s Air and despite being oddballs in the catalogue, those songs are pretty good. Brakes On, in particular, might make that late-60s futurist think, instead, of a discotheque on the Moon.

If you’re unfamiliar with Premiers Symptomes, check out the video for one its singles, Le soleil est pres de moi. It’s got nothing to do with the Moon, however:

Les Professionels

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Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆
7.9 / 10

Leonard Nimoy – Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space

Part of the Musical Star Trek Actors Series

  1. Shatner Rapping: No Tears for Caesar
  2. Leonard Nimoy – Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space

From the archives: I wrote the original version of this article for a newspaper column about 5 years ago. So it reads more like a newspaper column and not so much like a the informal blogginess that’s usually found around here. It’s from the Records that time forgot series that I hope to revive in 2007. This version corrects a couple awkward sentences and updates the formatting, but remains largely unchanged.

nimoy strums guitar


Actors want to be rock stars and rock stars are increasingly actors. It’s all theatrics. But it is by no means a recent phenomenon. Stars from Marlene Dietrich to Frank Sinatra to Snoop Dogg have crossed the line between audio and video for decades. That’s okay; they all had the talent to do it successfully yes, even snoop dogg.

Then there is another class of star who, no matter how talented in one field, fail in the other. You’ve got your Jennifer Love Hewitts, your Keanu Reeves I know, I use “talented” loosely and your Leonard Nimoys.

Nimoy was part of an explosion of such entertainers that occurred in the 60s. They were known as “Golden Throats,” popular screen actors who were way out of their element in front of a microphone. That description is not entirely fair to Nimoy though. He has a distinct and decent enough voice, which he uses to greater effect on his later albums. But this, his first, pretty much defines the word “doozy.”

Judged solely on its musical value, Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space would show few bright spots. Most people might even argue that it is a record best left forgotten. But 30 years and the age of ironic reinterpretation have added an entirely new dimension to Nimoy’s recording career, firmly entrenching this album in the novelty camp. This is a record for hardcore Star Trek fans and fans of junk culture kitsch alike.

Time has made this album into pure comedy gold.

Opening with a swingin’, go-go, Austin Powers-esque version of the original Star Trek theme, MSMFOS goes where no Star Trek actor had gone before, the recording booth. Released in 1967 to cash in on Star Trek’s, and Spock’s, growing popularity, MSMFOS edges out William Shatner’s own recording debut, The Transformed Man, by a year and is the first of Leonard Nimoy’s dozen-plus records.

MSMFOS is at once hilarious and completely non-cohesive. Like the variety shows of the era, the album veers erratically round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares maelstrom in a torrent of lounge, spoken word, and crooning before finally giving up.

Parts of the album even seem to have been put together without any input from the actor at all. Music to Watch Space Girls By is a nifty lounge-pop instrumental as is the included version of Lalo Schiffrin’s Mission: Impossible theme. In a strange turn, Nimoy would join the cast of that show three years later. Still, these pieces are obviously filler.

Of the vocal tracks on the record, most are presented from Spock’s point of view, casting his alien observations on humanity in spoken word and swing vocal form. Imagine that, Vulcan poetry.

But pop culture re-visioning can’t make up for everything on the disc. Twinkle Twinkle Little Earth is a horrendous essay on the use of the word “star” full of Gordon-level puns while Visit to a Sad Planet attempts to preach against nuclear violence in a narration with an eminently predictable twist that’s all too expected in a post-Planet of the Apes (1968) world.

For the most part, if you’re into novelty, the record is a treat if not overly rewarding. Like Halloween candy, it’s enjoyable is small doses, but don’t overdo it.

“Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space” remains out of print in both vinyl and CD formats. But if you can manage to find it, set your phasers to fun and prepare to be stunned by the vocal stylings of Leonard Nimoy.


Addendum: No, this is not the record that features The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins, but if you’re desperate enough to experience that hilarity, watch this disturbing video. You’ll have nightmares for sure.

Trotter Trio – Sketchin on Star Wars Jazz

star wars jazz at amazon

Interpretations of John Williams’ Star Wars music is a veritable cottage industry. A portion of it is sure to turn up at any concert performance featuring “movie music” as well as concert recordings featuring the same. Then, there’s Meco’s disco versions, The Evil Genius Orchestra’s excellent cocktail versions as well as countless techno/dance/club versions.

So it should come as no surprise that there is at least one jazz variation. The Trotter Trio lays out nine tracks from the original trilogy plus one “inspired by” song that incorporates quotes of the “Force Theme.” The styles range from uptempo swing jazz to mellow cool jazz. There’s even a hint of “smooth” jazz mixed in too but I won’t hold that against it.

Listening to this record, I can’t help but imagine Star Wars set, not as an epic space opera, but as a mirky black-and-white film noir, particularly when hearing Han Solo and the Princess:

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Luis Bacalov – La Seduzione: An Italian Tentazione

the seduction 1973

Continuing the tunequest within a tunequest today, I listened to a handful of tracks by Argentine composer Luis Bacalov during the morning’s rainy commute to the office. Bacalov rose to prominence writing film music for 60s and 70s era spaghetti westerns and hard boiled Italian dramas. Prolific, he’s got more than 140 composer credits to his name and even won an Academy Award in 1996 for Il Postino. More recently, he has gained some notoriety from several of his songs being included on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill soundtracks.

The track below, titled Nago, is from the 1973 Italian film La Seduzione, about a man who reunites with a former lover and then is seduced into an affair with her 15 year old daughter.

This thing is a swaggering waltz of funk. It gently lures you in with its sinister wah, sensuous horns and smooth smooth rhythm. But just when you think you know what it’s all about, it morphs, ever so briefly, into a deep driving piano groove. Then, as if to say that as easily as things change, they can easily change back, it returns to it former self.



Italian Cinema Lounge: A tunequest within a tunequest

I knew this day would eventually come, since the tunequest made it into the "i"s many months ago.

Back in 2001, I ran across a posting on the usenets called Italian Cinema Lounge. It was 225 songs taking up 700 MB and spanning eleven and a half hours of music culled from various Italian film composers from the 60s and 70s ranging from Alberto Baldan Bembo to Walter Rizzati. Fascinated by the concept, I snagged it, naturally. And let me tell you it is some very smooth music, the kind of stuff that’s been an inspiration to modern downtempo artists and urban hipsters, but more raw, orchestral and just plain jazzy.

(think Lalo Schifrin’s Enter the Dragon score)

Despite the well-earned reverence, however, listening to all of it proved to be a daunting task, and I could never quite bring myself to dive in and tackle it. About half the selection remains unheard to this day. (the flip-side is that the songs that have been played received 4 and 5 star ratings and, thus have been played numerous repeats).

Thus a new tunequest is born: to listen to all these Italian cinema masterpieces. off i go!