Air – 10000 Hz Legend: Frustrating Brilliance

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Released in 2001, 10,000 Hz Legend is Air’s first proper follow up to their smash Moon Safari. Coming three years after taking the world by storm, the record was much anticipated. Air had carved out a particular niche of upbeat, laid-back retro-electro-lounge and the fans wanted more. MORE!

Sadly, anyone who was expecting that was sorely disappointed. Including myself. I admit, it took me a long time to fully appreciate this album. I didn’t even pick up my own copy of it for months.

Gone is the light, airy feeling that made earlier works so attractive. In their place is a decidedly denser, darker, more down to earth record. It is less electronic though there’s still plenty of it; more organic and human. Yet, it is simultaneously both more conventionally pop and more experimental than the easily digestible tunes of Air past releases. And that is the source of frustration with it.

Yes, there is a certain je ne sais quoi that brands this as distinctly “Air,” but at times it just proves hard to listen to. Don’t Be Light, for example, has its moments, but it is so spastic–just all over the place–that it can’t muster up more than three stars. Wonder Milky Bitch plods along, like the soundtrack to a demented home on range, and is just downright weird. Conversely, Radio #1 exudes pure cheese: an over-the-top, over-produced mélange of sound, but it really isn’t that bad on the ears.

But for all its stubbornness, 10,000 Hz Legend is the kind of album that benefits from repeated listening. Layered and complex, the album reveals new tangents every time. The more I listen to it, the I want to listen to it. This stuff is ponderous; it get stuck in your head.

But it’s not all deep-thinking intellectualism and satire. Radian, the disc’s highlight, is pure pleasure. With a lofty flute melody, sensual strings, and a wonderful accompanying guitar, the song harkens back to the kinder, gentler Air from the past.

In retrospect, 10,000 Hz Legend is probably the best career move the band could have made at the time. It deftly avoided pigeonholing the band as a novelty lounge act and showed that they could use a larger aural canvas and think big. It reminds me of how Nirvana decided to, with In Utero, make a record that would discourage their new-found fans in the wake of Nevermind’s success. But they ended up cementing their reputations as the leaders of rock. Likewise, 10,000 Hz Legend pinned Air with lasting artistic credibility.


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