Sound — 9
Air's sound is like nothing else. It is melodic, ethereal, spacey, lyrical, and very well made. It's good sleeping music, and when you listen with eyes closed and visualize what the music seems to be saying, it's like a journey into a brightly lit city, mysterious and mystical, and something waiting to be discovered in every corner. The closer you listen ("look"), the more you'll find in the music. I'm not aware of any specific story attached to the album, but I will say that this is not the same Air as they were in Moon Safari and 10, 000 Hertz legend. Air has changed again, and it's noticeable. On the surface, the album is akin to the other Air albums: synthesizers, acoustic guitars, Jean-Benoit and Nicolas' indescribable vocals, pianos, and many other instruments continue to make appearances. But listen deeper: the synths have a more open sound, not the hard-edged, bouncy sound of Moon Safari and Talkie Walkie, and smoother than 10,000 Hertz. They also bring in guest vocalists, such as Jarvis Cocker on "One Hell Of A Party", and Niel Hannon on "Somewhere Between Waking And Sleeping". When you first hear the former of those two, you may be turned off by the husky whisper-like voice, which sounds almost strained, no matter where he's singing. But listen to the words: the voice fits with what the song is saying. Air has also widened their horizon of instruments: they bring in several classical Japanese instruments, such as the Shamisen, Koto, and Flutes. Along with these, there are Glockenspiels, Vibraphones, a Rhodes, xylophones, and of course the aforementioned Synthesizers and guitars that make Air what they are. Having said that, some who were fond of the old Air might not like this album at all. I know several people who bought it expecting the same things as the previous albums, and were very disappointed to hear the changes that had taken place.
Lyrics — 10
My overall impression of the lyrics is very good. They're much like Air's older lyrics, not so much Moon Safari, but definitely like Talkie Walkie. For the most part, the theme is Love. Whether it is falling in love (Napalm Love, track 4), lost love (Left Bank), a third-person perspective on love (Redhead Girl), or a flattering love song (Photograph). It's an ever-present theme, and if you like that sort of music, you'll like this. These themes of lyrics definitely suit the music: the flowing, ethereal Air sound, with the new variety of instruments, combined with the careful composition, make for a wonderful experience. The singers' skills are nothing to worry about. JB Dunkiel and Nicolas Godin do their usual singing, and the guests are just as capable.
Overall Impression — 10
I don't think there is any band quite like Air. I suppose the closest might be The Knife, whose sound is similar, but whose songs are less melodically innovative in some respects (not to down-beat The Knife-I like them a lot). In comparison to the other Air albums, it is a step away from their older stuff. But I think it's a step in the right direction; On the Moon Safari album, the music was very melodic and complex, but the Vocals were very riff-based. Then they evolved a good bit through the years and came out with Talkie Walkie, which is probably the most comparable album to this, Lyric-wise. Pocket Symphony is sort of a cross between those two: it has Moon Safari's excellent musicality, and Talkie Walkie's great lyrics. The most impressive songs are probably "Left Bank", because of the power of the lyrics, and "Night Sight", the album's outro instrumental, because of the wonderful job Jean-Benoit did with it, by himself. The only thing that I hate about it is the first few vocals on "One Hell Of A Party", which are not unlike nails across a chalkboard when you're listening to Air. I love the rest of the album, and I'm glad that Air has come back to us once again. If it were ever lost or stolen, well, it lives on my iPod and in my (ultimately impossible to find what CD you're looking for) CD stash, so I don't think there's much chance of it getting stolen. But if my hard drive were to die and I were not able to find the CD, I would definitely get it again.