Happy 15th Anniversary to Air’s third studio album Talkie Walkie, originally released January 21, 2004.
It’s rare for musicians to recapture their debut magic, especially after a sophomore slump. Released in the winter of 2004, Talkie Walkie is the third studio album from the French duo Air. After their previous record, 10,000 Hz Legend (2001) disappointed fans and critics, Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel returned to the elegant melodies of their first album on Talkie Walkie.
The charm that won over fans, reaching far beyond France, is in the prefabricated ambiance of each track. It’s easy to see why even those who have never listened to an Air album can recognize a track. Expanding upon their work for The Virgin Suicides soundtrack, they continue their cinematic streak on this album, both literally (“Alone in Kyoto” for the Lost in Translation soundtrack) and figuratively.
Particularly theatrical is “Venus,” the swirling opening track. The sparse instrumentation builds slowly, and when the typically starry synths drop in, it’s Air at their best. Layers of sound and texture, moments of drama, and nearly silent breaths, take shape before dissolving into the blissful album ahead.
“Cherry Blossom Girl” is iconically Air. They pull a familiar trick, incorporating potentially cheesy elements into a classic house structure, somehow creating a very cool song (it is a good moment for flutes). Originally with vocals by Hope Sandoval, the French duo decided to take a more DIY-approach and recorded the final cut with themselves singing on the track. While losing something that was surely special, the end product is distinctively Air.
Frantic “Run” and “Alpha Beta Gaga” send an electric techno current through the record when it begins to droop. Futuristic and up-tempo, both feature the trademark slow wave of strings rolling in at the perfect moment. Tracks like these feel like fully-baked 10,000 Hz Legend singles, experimental but never discordant.
“Mike Mills,” a track named after the acclaimed video director, has apt cinematic flair. There’s a constant kick with lush strings; the swell towards the end is particularly enchanting. Next comes heavy synths, Moon Safari synths, paired with breathy, catchy lyrics on the hypnotic “Surfing on a Rocket.” The song is a bona fide single, complete with a countdown at the end of track, perfect for a crescendoing singalong.
Talkie Walkie, despite its modest length, sets several vivid scenes. “Biological” has a winding, Western sound. You can picture Godin and Dunckel riding off into a disco ball sunset. Another set they return to is the Japanese motif, from “Cherry Blossom Girl.” The closing track, “Alone in Kyoto,” is a stunning sonic garden. It avoids obvious Western gaze by using Japanese influences sparingly, but enough to craft a graceful homage. It’s meticulous, still a piano led track, but with a thrumming heartbeat that fades to the sound of an empty beach, a closing meditation.
In a skillful return to their retro synth roots, Air matches the spirit of their debut on Talkie Walkie. The neat, ten-song album is a standout in their discography, and lauded as one of the best albums of 2004. Rob Sheffield summed it up in his Rolling Stone review 15 years ago, saying in Talkie Walkie, “[Air] return to what they do best: elegantly moody soundtrack music for imaginary films."