Charlotte Gainsbourg 5:55 / Darkel

In the two and a half years since Air returned to form with Talkie Walkie, Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel appear to have laid low. However, behind the scenes they’ve been more productive than ever recording two side projects and an apparent Air full-length slated for 2007 that is reportedly taking them in yet another direction. Daughter of Serge Gainsbourg, Charlotte is an acclaimed actress, but thanks to Air, has finally followed up her 1986 debut Charlotte for Ever with the lush 5:55. The talent on this record is extraordinary: backed by Godin and Dunckel, produced by Nigel Godrich, and co-penned with Jarvis Cocker and the Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, not to mention Gainsbourg’s seductive voice. Eclipsing her mother Jane Birkin’s all-star album from earlier this year, 5:55 feels like a brand new Air album with a new chanteuse in tow. "AF607105” moves at a tranquil pace, showcasing Air’s wispy signature, while "The Operation” moves to a motorik beat with a cool retro vibe to it. Although it’s a sublime sounding record, disappointingly there’s little here that stand outs amongst the work of all parties involved. Unfortunately, Darkel — Dunckel’s solo project — doesn’t fare any better. Stylish and nicely arranged, there’s little substance compared to all of the style. Indulgent, superficial and even a little naff, Darkel is plagued with problems. The soft rock of "At the End of the Sky” sounds like an undesirable Ween pastiche, which is likely not what J-B’s aiming for here. Likewise with "Some Men,” a fine example of castrated wuss rock. Always interesting, but then again, rarely consistent, let’s hope this new direction of Air’s proves these two projects were only distractions while making another masterpiece. (Warner / EMI)