There’s always been a classical aspect to Air, the sublime French duo of whom Nicolas Godin is half. Their songs are small-scale compositions – mainly instrumental, evocative, comprised of movements and layered with independent yet complementary melodies, or counterpoints. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Godin’s first solo album has Contrepoint as its title or that it’s inspired by a true specialist of the art, Johann Sebastian Bach. Godin has declined to take the easier option of merely applying synthesised spit’n’polish to JSB’s work, though, instead using the composer as a reference point, a base camp from which to venture in a variety of directions, some less chartered than others, but most of them huge fun.
The outrageous opener, ‘Orca’, is a prime example: Godin interrupts a soloing organ with crashes of electric guitar and thunderous strings before calling in a comically overdriven electronic fugue, which sounds like Matt Bellamy’s guitar plugged into a Sega Megadrive. ‘Club Nine’ takes the 18th-century composer to a smokey Sixties jazz dive, draws knowingly from Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’ and colours the scene with brushes whisking across the snare and lovely syncopated bass flourishes. ‘Glenn’ follows the lead of Godin’s countrymen Daft Punk in sampling the spoken raison d’etre of an avant-garde music maker (here Canadian Bachophile Glenn Gould rather than Giorgio Moroder), to its backing of Air-like exotica. Then there’s the album’s craziest concoction, ‘Bach Off’, which delivers rhythmic counterpoint alongside the melodic in a misty tribal prelude of percussion and sax that breaks down into a sort of beatnicky-free-jazz and Krautrock crossover. Bach’s harmonic harpsichordal doodles hover at the periphery, making their presence felt every now and then.
The guest contributors to Contrepoint are further evidence of its scope – a Macedonian choir and Brazilian singer Marcelo Camelo among them; even Connan Mockasin shows up, guitar in tow. There are flatter moments to the album, but given its restless breadth, these aren’t dwelt on for long. And as some sort of introduction to Bach himself, the record’s accessibility backs up Godin’s assessment that the composer is “everywhere. The source of so much music.” Happily there are artists like Godin around to continue his adventurism.