Recording information: Atlas Studio (2013).
When Twentyears arrived in 2016, it didn't coincide exactly with Air's 20th anniversary: Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin began working together as Air in 1995. Similarly, the collection takes an impressionistic, less archival approach to the duo's music. The first half collects many of their best-known tracks, but instead of placing them in chronological order, they're blended into each other like a playlist. Juxtaposing songs from different eras and albums reinforces just how seamlessly Air mixed exotica, symphonic, electronic, and pop into their own distinctive but quintessentially tasteful style, as well as the differences within their body of work. Moon Safari's jazzy smoothness dominates Twentyears, with songs such as "La Femme d'Argent," "Kelly Watch the Stars," and "Sexy Boy" making up nearly a quarter of the collection's first part. Talkie Walkie's pop whimsy also has a large presence, represented by tracks including "Cherry Blossom Girl" and "Alpha Beta Gaga." Highlights from Air's film music are rightly included, with The Virgin Suicides' "Playground Love," Lost in Translation's "Alone in Kyoto," and Voyage dans la Lune's "Moon Fever" holding their own with the band's singles. However, other areas of their career feel underrepresented; only a handful of tracks from the underappreciated Pocket Symphony and 10,000 Hz Legend -- whose experiments have aged better than might have been expected -- are here, and there are no Love 2 songs whatsoever. On the other hand, the inclusion of the 1997 single "Le Soleil Est Près de Moi" and "Land Me," a song from Air's limited-edition 2014 album Music for Museum (which was commissioned by the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille) add something special while introducing the rarities that make up Twentyears' second half. As with the rest of the collection, the harder-to-find tracks seem to be chosen in order to maintain the relentlessly pleasant mood. However, songs such as "The Duelist," which features vocals by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jarvis Cocker, reflect just how sublime Air's music can be, while the sitar-heavy "Indian Summer" dips into their fondness for kitsch. Though it feels too general for die-hard fans and too completist for most casual ones, Twentyears does showcase Air's unrivaled skill at making exquisite mood music over the decades. ~ Heather Phares