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Air

City Reading: Tre Storie Western (Record Makers/Astralwerks)

Once a crucial component in France's down-tempo electronica scene, Air now resembles Obscured by Clouds-era Pink Floyd and Serge Gainsbourg more than it does the passé acid-jazzers with whom it used to share deck time. City Reading is a brave detour for Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin: They provide music for Italian author Alessandro Baricco as he reads three grim stories reflecting his unique vision of the old American West. Baricco has a deep, sonorous voice, and Italian is a beautiful language, even if you don't understand it. (The CD booklet contains an English translation.) Each story receives its own musical theme, on which Air spins variations with acoustic guitar, multiple keyboards, strings, flute, chimes and wind. (There's exactly one beat on the disc, and it's slower than a yogi's heart rate.) The disc's overall tone is deeply melancholic and exquisitely beautiful, similar to Air's Virgin Suicides soundtrack, but more desolate and, paradoxically, more powerful.

 
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