I have just discovered Talkie Walkie, Air‘s 2004 album.
Where have I been for the past seven years? How was it possible to have heard, repeatedly, to own and to like “Alpha Beta Gaga” without further exploring its homeland?
Anyhow, the album. I am very happy to know it.
If I had to guess a unifying premise, it would be the following: a young man, romantic to the core and pining for meaning in his life, leaves his past behind and sets off for Japan to teach English. He meets a Japanese girl [“Venus”], yearns for her [“Cherry Blossom Girl”], and wins her affections [“Run”]. When his time to leave approaches, he tries to convince her to go with him [“Universal Traveler”] and pours out his intentions [“Mike Mills”]. She ultimately refuses, reluctant to leave home [“Surfing On A Rocket”]. Heartbroken, he tries to cope [“Another Day”] and focuses on the day-to-day instead [“Alpha Beta Gaga,” album title]. But he can’t stay away from his lover, and again makes an appeal to her decision – that the differences between them shouldn’t keep them apart [“Biological”] – but to no avail. Our traveler must leave, and during his last day in Japan realizes he is more alone now than when he first arrived [“Alone in Kyoto,” also featured in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation].
Sonically, it fits more with alternative music created today as opposed to in 2004. Heavy beats; copious use of airy, electronified vocals; quick tempos; loops of picked strings and chimes; ambient choral reverb. Maybe the only facet of Talkie Walkie‘s songs that sets them quite obviously apart from today’s popular songs is their chill factor. Air never sound hurried or overwrought, here. Pensive and emotive, sure, but when the tempos rise, there are no yelps, shouts, anxious falsetto lines or lyrical booms [à la Foster The People, Mumford & Sons, or Young The Giant], just calm professions of whatever the narrator has on his mind.
Take “Surfing On a Rocket” for example – a song with the fastest pace of any on Talkie Walkie. No frills or pleading verses here (although the video is very silly).
But on this point, the tracks aren’t so electronic that they frost over and remove the first person. In “Run,” the pain and desire of the narrator are palpable, as he pleads with his lover (in a robotic voice, nonetheless) to stay with him, in bed, just a while longer – that he feels empty when she leaves him.
I simultaneously feel like a putz for not having introduced this album to my life when I first heard “Alpha Beta Gag” five years ago, but also feel strangely at peace with it. Maybe Talkie Walkie wouldn’t have resonated as profoundly as it does tonight, for whatever combination of situations that differentiates then and now.
While there is lots to appreciate about the album, maybe the most important thing to take away from it is that, via the album, Air does a stellar job of conveying the seamless overlap between electronic music and human experience, something that many artists often struggle to express.
If you know the Talkie Walkie, or even if you are only listening for the first time, I welcome your feedback.