Krautrock in the Air 25 Years On: The Virgin Suicides

Jul 6th, 2015 | By | Category: Reviews, The Best New Old Thing

air virginIt seems only appropriate that after spending weeks re-listening to classic German Krautrock bands, I should succumb to the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. After all, the phenomenon is named after an ultra-left-wing German terrorist group.

Fortunately, I was not being terrorized but rather was hearing echoes of Krautrock in everything I listened to. That’s what the phenomenon refers to: How when something new is brought to our attention, we start seeing (or in this case, hearing) it everywhere. While Krautrock was hardly new to me, I had not spent much time listening to it in years, so I guess my neurons filed it under “new-ish.”

I came to that realization while listening to a stack of newly reissued LPs from the French band Air, and in particular to my favorite soundtrack ever, The Virgin Suicides. The companion to Sofia Coppola’s 1999 directorial debut marked my introduction to the group, and I enjoyed the music at least as much as the movie.

Within seconds after I cued up opening track “Playground Love,” the synth sound had me saying to myself, “Gosh, they must have listened to some Tangerine Dream.” That had never struck me before, and everything I had read had pointed to a host of other influences (Vangelis, Serge Gainsbourg, etc.). But after a little Googling, I found I was not the only person who has heard the Germanic influences. It’s hardly the core of what they do, but it is a noticeable influence.

Listening to the album carefully more than 15 years after its release (how is that possible?!?), I’m struck by how it stands not just as a fine soundtrack but as a great album, too. “Playground Love,” with that synth, soft vocals and saxophone exudes sensuality, setting the tone for the entire album (and movie). Instrumental track “Bathroom Girl” brings back the synth and throws in organ and some prog guitar for another tasty tidbit.

That is typical of the album. With almost all the tracks clocking in at under three minutes for a total running time of a little under 41 minutes, The Virgin Suicides is a sweet box of miniatures, each having a similar feel but obviously not cut from the same cloth as many soundtracks are. “Dark Messages,” for instance, is mostly a soft electronic pulse overlaid with gossamer electric piano. It virtually defines evanescence. “Dirty Trip” brings back the electric piano but with more of a solid jazz feel, polished with electronic swooshes.

And then there is the “theme” of the movie, “Highschool Lover.” Acoustic piano starts things off in an almost classical vein, then the Tangerine Dream synth slides in again. The two play against each other for a bit, then the track just trails off in the most somnambulant manner.

Air even manage to pull off that one thing about soundtracks that usually bugs the hell out of me: including snippets of dialogue. Beginning with what sounds like a heavenly choir, “The Word ‘Hurricane'” includes a bit of a pivotal class lecture from the film, then segues into an electronic/jazzy finale that spirals out. The shortness of the excerpt and its instrumental bookends make it feel right at home, rather than a distraction. Similarly, closer “Suicide Underground” seamlessly weaves dialogue throughout a song that functions as a requiem for the titular virgins.

Other listeners may prefer one or another Air release to this one. And as the owner of all their work, I have to agree that it’s hard to choose a favorite. But maybe because The Virgin Suicides was my introduction to them, it will always be near the top of my list.

Details

  • Artist: Air
  • Title: The Virgin Suicides
  • Year of release: 1999
  • Year of first hearing by writer: 1999
  • Label of original release: Astralwerks
  • Format listened to: LP
  • Track Listing
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3 Comments to “Krautrock in the Air 25 Years On: The Virgin Suicides”

  1. Justin Custer says:

    Also my favorite OST. Great write up and happy to see AIR REs.

  2. A ‘sweet box of miniatures’ is lovely. Must listen to this tonight (on CD, sadly).
    Cheers.

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