Essential New Music: Air’s “Twentyears” And Cornelius’ “Fantasma”

Japan’s Keigo Oyamada and the French duo of Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin may have lived in different parts of the globe, but 20 years ago, Cornelius and Air, respectively, crafted individually quirky, definitively kitschy brands of ambient space pop with a breathy, retro-disco edge. Though there were softly spun elements of bachelor-pad Bacharach-ania in each synth act’s earliest singles, by the time it came to their first albums (Cornelius’ richly silly Fantasma re-released now with additional tunes; Air’s first un-merry album Moon Safari, repeated here as part of a two-CD/four-LP boxed set with wispy, kicking remixes), each act drifted more toward the 21st century, rather than reach back retro-phonically.

Twenty years of distance when it comes to synth-onics and mechanical pulses usually freeze dries a sound in place and lends an air of reminiscence to each endeavor. The weird thing, then, about both Cornelius’ single album and Air’s catalog package (soundtrack bits to The Virgin Suicides and all), is how oddly timeless and freshly moist both artists earliest epics are in retrospect. Blame current remastering techniques or the prescience of its makers, each of these collections sound future-forward (then) and very now (wow).

—A.D. Amorosi