Air plus New Young Pony Club equals a new high in Anglo-French relations
The name alone has connotations of lost futures. ‘Tomorrow’s World’, the technology TV show where the internet was introduced as a giant bleep for mankind, Kraftwerk welcomed us to computer music, and the 21st century was offered with a wide-eyed and excitable verve that promised the impossible made everyday and the implausible made real. Back then, the years ahead had possibilities.
Tomorrow’s World the band enter the present day with all the future-nostalgia you’d expect from their moniker. And given the identities of the Tomorrow’s World duo – Jean-Benoît (JB) Dunckel from Air and New Young Pony Club’s Lou Hayter – it’s an ideological position that’s not entirely surprising. This project is created by members of groups whose entire oeuvres have been focused on recapturing and recasting romantic notions of the past’s future.
Dunckel and Hayter take their musical inspiration for Tomorrow’s World from both the soundtrack work of Angelo Badalamenti and Lil Louis’ ‘French Kiss’ masterpiece. As musical sources go, neither exactly offers a dissonant counterpoint to the other. Both trade equally in kitsch and chic. Both employ anodyne strings as much as shimmering bass tones. Both employ margins that are mainstreamed. Much like Air and New Young Pony Club, in fact.
From the off, then, this album trades on an ideology of complimentary opposites. Little surprise that this super-duo sound exactly how you might expect the coupling of Air’s tranquilised (as opposed to tranquil) melody and New Young Pony Club’s self-conscious but ultimately safe sense of electro cool to sound. This isn’t an Anglo-French embrace of boundary-free experimentalism, that’s for sure.
But is the lack of curve balls in this project such a bad thing? With ‘Tomorrow’s World’, the duo bring out the very thing that defines the best of their own musical output. Vastly more successful than Dunckel’s solo outing Darkel, it allows the one-time prog rock muso (with fellow Parisian Mellow) to fully engage with his ability to apply a sweet-touch melody to the darkest of backdrops, while Hayter is able to immerse her abilities in adding new frailty to assured arrangements with stunning effect. This marriage of sweetness and frailty is at its most effective on tracks like ‘Life On Earth’ and ‘A Heart That Beats For Me’, in which Dunckel’s piano motifs take the bitterness out of distorted echo-drop ambience as Hayter’s soulless vocals hide an emotional undercurrent of collapse. More sweet-bitter than bittersweet.
‘Don’t Let Them Bring You Down’ offers a dystopian rearrangement of The Carpenters, with focus-shifting synths and strings stretched over a plaintive vocal. The overall effect is like hearing an old cassette wobbling its way through classic pop. The result is a fresh but accidental ambience of decay. Elsewhere, the singles ‘So Long My Love’ and ‘Drive’ offer sinewy muscle to the album through their 80s synthpop arrangements and retro automotive obsessions.
Not exactly a brave new future but a retread of past futures, then. ‘Tomorrow’s World’ is a gorgeous album nonetheless.