No Way Down EP
[Sincerely Yours; 2008]
Gothenburg, located on the west coast of Sweden, averages highs in the upper 60s in June; in recent years, however, the city has produced some of the sunniest music in the world. Tropical rhythms and warm-weather themes color releases by Jens Lekman, the Tough Alliance, Studio, and the Embassy-- all of whom have recorded for Gothenburg-based label Service. TTA and Studio have since founded their own labels, each with its own cryptic website. Signed to TTA's Sincerely Yours, Air France invited listeners to their "Beach Party" with last year's too-good-to-be-true On Trade Winds EP. Air France's latest, the 23-minute No Way Down EP, is better.
The seaside disco of the Gothenburg groups shares many traits with the DJ-ing style named after the Balearic archipelago, off the coast of Spain. Dreamed up on the Balearic island of Ibiza by Argentina-born DJ Alfredo Fiorito in the mid-1980s and soon brought to London, the sound spanned laid-back, groove-oriented music ranging from conga-accented Italo disco and the iridescent proto-techno of Manuel Göttsching's classic E2-E4 to hypnotic indie rock by the Woodentops and offbeat selections from soft-rock, prog, and global pop music. As a DJ-centered art, Balearic house was inherently based on manipulations of other people's music.
Balearic is far from the only musical perspective that can unite an eclectic variety of records without regard to genre or historical context. As the KLF observed in their book The Manual: How to Have a Number One the Easy Way, "All records in the Top 10 (especially those that get to #1) have far more in common with each other than with whatever genre they have developed from or sprung out of." That's true from "Take Five" to "Smells Like Teen Spirit". What distinguishes the music of Air France and their Sincerely Yours colleagues from the more rock- and groove-oriented sounds of Studio or Norwegian cosmic disco DJs like Lindstrřm, Prins Thomas, and Todd Terje is that they've taken to heart not only Balearic, but also the teachings of chart pop.
Air France use elements of both Balearic and pop to create their sumptuous, sincere fantasy world. In that respect, Air France's No Way Down-- currently import-only outside of Sweden except as 320 kbps mp3s-- is reminiscent of the Avalanches' dazzlingly great Since I Left You, another record that finds wide-eyed delight in silly stuff like truth, beauty, and fun, as well as Jens Lekman's Night Falls Over Kortedala and the Tough Alliance's A New Chance. It imagines an impossibly idyllic place through sounds that probably could never have been performed that way in real life. Though it's been said, many times, many ways: Welcome to paradise.
Unlike Balearic disco contemporaries such as Studio or A Mountain of One, No Way Down does childlike joy, not hypnotized headiness. Typewriter-like clicks and John Williams-ready horn fanfares, complete with tympani, introduce the opener, "Maundy Thursday". This track soon settles into chilled-out synth washes and sober piano melodies, establishing a tone of sincerity without sacrificing lush outdoor beauty. The swooning string flourishes on finale "Windmill Wedding" aren't far off from the introduction to hip-hop producer Bangladesh's ubiqitous beat for Lil Wayne's "A Milli". Electric guitar and piano ripple across each other like waves, giving way to Spanish-tinged guitar, percussive human breaths, broken-up female vocals, church bells, and bird chirps. The coup de grâce: the whinnying of a horse. You can almost picture someone's gallant lover galloping across the surf.
Other tracks are more in the foamy wake of the group's breakout indie late-2006 track "Beach Party". "Collapsing at Your Doorstep" is gorgeously produced, stupidly catchy, and totally affecting, with an elegant dance groove and an infectious hook. The verses throw lyrics to the wind in favor of wildlife sounds, congas, and woodwinds, which bask in harp glissandos and Göttsching-esque guitar filigrees, plus some string and horn samples. "No more, no more, no more, no morals anymore/ Throw bottles, throw bottles, throw bottles at your door," a woman seems to be singing, followed by children's voices: "Sorta like a dream?" "No -- better." Nearly as perfect is "No Excuses", with handclaps and a yearning chorus: "No excuses left/ Waiting to fail, but not quite yet." It's like Saint Etienne for an endless summer.
As with many other gifted pop and Balearic artists, Air France also happen to be sticky-fingered. Their sources are varied, yet the pleasure isn't recognizing the different sonic elements, but in relishing their almost supernatural co-existence. "Beach Party" lifted its hook from Lisa Stansfield. The No Way Down title track directly quotes the Happy Mondays. The melancholy intro that precedes Go! Team-esque horns and cheers on "June Evenings" is from late-1980s TV fantasy-romance "Beauty and the Beast", as are the children's voices on "Collapsing at Your Doorstep", describing both the show's fantastical underground world and the joy of being with someone you love. If No Way Down is about a place that doesn't exist, it's a place where fairy tales are true and where old pop culture ephemera can-- in Air France's fertile musical imagination, at least-- live happily ever after.
- Marc Hogan, June 26, 2008