The first thing to know is that, unlike previous albums, City Reading was intended to be played on stage by only two musicians (Nicolas & JB), as a live performance. Therefore, and except for a flute in two tracks, the whole album is exclusively played by the duo.
The sound resulting from this certainly differs from previous albums where each song contained a lot of different instruments and tracks. However, it does not lack Air’s deep, heavy ambiance; you can recognize their sound at once.
But the second thing to know is that it is by no way intended to be listened to as a new music album. I guess many fans will be disappointed by this: whereas The Virgin Suicides soundtrack could be beautiful even without having seen the original movie, City Reading loses all its meaning without Baricco’s texts. It’s just not composed to stand alone.
I see this as another experiment, closer to Air’s will to innovate and surprise us than to their previous musical works. It’s not completely aside their evolution though, for it’s a worthy continuation of their journey into crude, acid, beautiful darkness. As we have seen (or rather, heard) with The Virgin Suicides and 10′000 Hz Legend, they are heading into more adult, less idyllic grounds than Moon Safari and Premiers Symptômes.
Baricco’s stories fit this orientation perfectly.
Sad, striking, crude too. But let’s head into a closer look to the three stories of City Reading:
Doubtlessly the most musical piece of the whole album, this first track is also the closer to Air’s previous works. Indeed, this is the only track Air was totally free to compose. A huge, heavy, progressively growing theme underlines the sad story of a fading gunfighter.
- La puttana Di Closingtown (The Whore Of Closingtown).
The second short story tells the tragic story of a prostitute and a young boy who loves her. All along the story, the music starts nice, and ends, well, just as dark as the text. Interesting themes are developped in this one, with some tracks still mostly made of ambient sounds.
- Caccia All’uomo (Manhunt).
The last story uses a lot of ambient sounds (as opposed to musical themes), so it can be seen as the less musical of all three. There are some piece of enjoyable music though, but it’s only there to remind you from the dark story it emphasizes, like an impressionist background.
All in all, the point is that this is neither a new Air music album, nor just stories by Baricco. It’s a fascinating mixing of the talent of both. Therefore, there is hardly any point to listen to the music without reading the texts at the same time (unless you understand Italian, which I don’t). The author, reading his texts himself, possesses a powerful and assured voice and tone that match the stories’ mood.
The music can also be considered as more minimalistic than 10′000 Hz Legend, but it just suits Baricco’s marvelous, simple though strong texts. The back cover title reads “Three western stories”. It precisely illustrates the whole orientation of this work, and Air’s sound quickly fills your room with the ambiance of the stories : hot desert, thirst, dirt, blood.
Do not buy this album if you do not intend to read texts while listening or if you are not interested in a intriguing experiment by our favorite duo. Otherwise, try it, the stories are just fantastic, and beautifully rendered by Air’s sound.