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Air

by Philip Brasor

There’s a theory that says trapped inside every electronica artist is a real musician trying to get out. In the case of the French duo Air, it initially seemed that the inner artist was either Burt Bacharach or KC & the Sunshine Band, but since their radio-friendly 1997 debut “Moon Safari,” more serious artistic types appear to be struggling to escape. Their second album, “10000Hz Legend,” was slightly darker and rockish, but without the tension that comes with rock.

“Talkie Walkie,” which comes out at the end of the month, is being touted as a return to what they do best, but there’s no disco, and the dreamy pop that secured them a fan base on “Moon Safari” and the soundtrack to “The Virgin Suicides” is weightier and more melancholic. Nicolas Godin and Nean-Benoit Dunckel have taken it upon themselves to do all their vocals this time (mostly with the help of vocoders, and generally just above a whisper), and the songs are dense where they were once airy. A few tunes, like the spry “Surfing on a Rocket,” coast along on rubbery beats, but mostly they drift on compressed layers of acoustic guitars and plucky keyboards. If anything harkens back to early sides, it’s the focus on melodies, whether they’re being carried by the vocals or by the ubiquitous piano lines. One way to approach “Talkie Walkie” is to think of it as “Moon Safari” without the electronica, which means there’s no hidden artist trying to make himself heard. It’s just Godin and Dunckel being musicians.