Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks)

Why is it, exactly, that so many Americans dislike the French? This isn't a recent development: Long before adding "freedom fries" and "freedom toast" to greasy-spoon menus everywhere, the U.S. of A. was blowing a raspberry across the Atlantic. The French are too snooty. Too pretentious. Too French. And sometimes we think they don't like us either, and that hurts our feelings. But let's reconsider our position. The French gave us the Statue of Liberty and crème fraîche. They gave us fun phrases that make us sound smart, such as pièce de résistance and très déclassé. And they gave us Air. Thanks, France!

Longtime friends Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Grodin formed Air in 1995, and in 1998 the duo charmed listeners with its critically lauded debut, Moon Safari. Air's eerie soundtrack to 2000's The Virgin Suicides captured perfectly the dread and beauty of that film. And for the newest LP, Talkie Walkie, Air recruited über-producer Nigel Godrich (the man behind Beck's Sea Change, Travis' The Man Who and every Radiohead album since OK Computer) to turn its already lush soundscapes into something even more spectacular. Gone is the sterility of 2001's 10,000 Hz Legend; gone are the chilly keyboard washes and robotic voices. Talkie Walkie is ambient and electronic, to be sure, but it is also warm and very human. The first track, "Venus," is as pretty as birdsong, and not a single subsequent tune disappoints. Dunckel and Godin are having fun on this album, and the joy is contagious, especially when listening to the uptempo whistling on "Alpha Beta Gaga" or the banjo (!) on "Biological." Some tracks sound like beautiful parts of a score in search of a movie ("Mike Mills" is one of these); other tracks have already found films (the album's extraordinary closer, "Alone in Kyoto," was composed for Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation).

Much more than just chill-out background music, Talkie Walkie demands -- and rewards -- a close listen. Lovely, intelligent albums are rare, yet Air has a whole discography of them. Makes you want to give them a big ol' freedom kiss, doesn't it?