Listening to Starwalker is like eavesdropping on the world’s hippest cocktail party. Which, given the electro-daydream sonic pallet of its two members’ main projects (Air and Bang Gang), isn’t wholly unexpected. But with their new collaboration, Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Bardi Johannsson have taken casual cool to the next level, sinuous synths and Dunckel’s Gauloises smoke-infused vocals lofting towards the heavens.
Sure, it’s difficult to tell just how serious they are at any given moment. But it’s that nonchalance that allows them to get away with pretty much whatever they want. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter if we can’t tell whether the band’s use of vocoder (on nearly every track) or simplistic hypnotic chants (same) is the musical equivalent of an extended, exaggerated wink. From wordplay that swings between bar banter philosophy (“the universe is modular”) to the surreal (mentions of “Christmas on acid”), theirs is the occasionally kitschy aesthetic that demands that you buy into it fully or not at all.
But like any Bang Gang/Air production, under the glitter and polish (in the case of the video for single “Losers Can Win,” actual glitter), is a heavy helping of sentimentality. “Come And Stay” shaves down the pair’s bubbly aesthetic to a lithe handclap and guitar-based melody, all the better to extol the comforting powers of love. Meanwhile, the use of a children’s choir-reminiscent vocal effect elevates “Holidays” to effervescent anthem status. But seriously, who can’t down to a single about the joys of going on vacation? (“The sun is bright/and I feel alright/happy days are coming again.” I can dig it.) It also explains why, in an album ostensibly celebrating the bright, brighter, brightest elements of life, “Le President,” resonates in all its minor key, harpsichord glory, its refrain “You will remember me…forever” powerfully hitting home. It may not be a promise the band is prepared to keep just yet, but their self-titled debut assures we’ll be sticking for nightcap all the same.