NICOLAS GODIN – CONCRETE AND GLASS
NCLS/Because Music, 2020
Nicolas Godin is better known as half of the electronic music duo Air, but they haven’t released any new music as a group since their soundtrack for Georges Méliès’ 1902 film Le voyage dans la lune in 2012. Since then, Godin and his bandmate, Jean-Benoît Dunckel have focused more on side projects, film scores, and solo releases. Concrete and Glass is Godin’s second studio album following his 2015 release, Contrepoint.
The title Concrete and Glass is a reference back to Godin’s time as a student of architecture. The first lyrics we hear in the title track are “I’m looking for a house/made of concrete and glass,” filtered through a vocoder. I don’t know if this is supposed to lay some kind of thematic foundation (heh, architect humor) for the album. If it does, it’s definitely more of a metaphorical theme than a literal theme as the title track and “The Foundation” are the only tracks to directly mention anything related to architecture, and the latter is definitely metaphorical. The rest of the tracks have more romantic lyrics. Specifically they seem to be post-romantic, describing events after a relationship has ended.
Musically, the album sounds pretty much like an old-school Air album but within the musical context of the late 2010s. You still have your slow jamming, downtempo beats with African drums, funky bass, and the latin presets on vintage rhythm machines, but now you have elements of more modern genres and techniques like chillwave and vaporwave in the form of 808s and more ’80s-style synths. This isn’t a major stylistic shift, but more just a slight change in the range of years that Godin pulls his sonic palette from. Air always looked to the past for the building blocks of their sound, Godin has just broadened the scope. The only track that really deviates from a typical Air style is the final track, “Cité radieuse,” that takes things in a bit of a jazz direction. It’s a welcome change and ends the album on a highlight.
Five of the tracks on this album have guest vocalists and Godin does his best to complement what each guest brings to their respective track. The best results come on “Back To Your Heart” and “We Forgot Love,” featuring Kate NV and Kadhja Bonet respectively. Kate NV especially has a voice that recalls the airy pop music of the ’70s and ’80s, matching Godin’s aesthetics perfectly, though the song does get a bit repetitive. Songs featuring Kirin J Callinan and Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor are fine but not particularly special. Cola Boyy’s feature on “The Foundation” almost falls into the same territory, but his unique voice and Godin’s choices to complement it just manage to save the track. All other tracks feature Godin’s voice filtered through a vocoder, samples of what sound like GPS directions (“Turn Right, Turn Left”), or no vocals at all.
Overall, I think this is a pretty enjoyable album. Godin is operating well within his wheelhouse. And while there’s something to be said for experimentation, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to what you know when you do it this well. He makes welcome updates to the signature downtempo sound he developed with Air and he makes good choices with his guest vocalists. Concrete and Glass is a nice, relaxing electronic album to play in the background, or to enjoy quietly with headphones.