It'd be easy to review one of the other Air albums, but I'm trying to re-visit CDs that I haven't really paid much attention to, and there's no album more ignored than City Reading, Air's accompaniment to excerpts of Alessandro Baricco's novel City.
City Reading is basically a book-on-tape, with the author reading passages from the novel and Air providing a soundtrack. It's almost impossible to get into an in-depth understanding of the project without reading the book itself, but sufficed to say a bit of the background helps.
From what I understand, City is the story of a sheltered 13 year old math prodigy who, due to familial breakdowns (mom goes crazy; dad's in the army), grows close to his governess, who has been equally sequestered from life. The relationship between the two forms as they exchange fantastical tales: the prodigy has his stories about a boxer, the governness has her Westerns, which she's been inventing and modifying since she was 6.
The album features Baricco reading two of the governess' Westerns, both of which have more in common with tragic Sergio Leone characters than John Wayne cowboys. It's easy to dismiss Air's accompaniment (esp. with the first story), then, as Air's trademark breezy, fancy-free and dulcet tones waft through the speakers: the music doesn't fit well with what are essentially murder, vengence, and suicide tales. But when one considers that these tales are in themselves fantasies of the governess', stories within Baricco's own, it becomes somewhat fitting that the music is more dreamy than the more obvious Morricone choice.
This is even further enhanced by the fact that Baricco, reading the stories in their native Italian, basically alienates the stories even further into fantasy, emphasizing the foreigness of what are inherently American story-forms. When one considers the post-modern clusterfuck of an author reading his own character's writings, the accompaniment by Air starts to make more sense, and becomes a lot less self-serving and pretentious than the initial reviewers had assumed.
That's not to say that City Reading isn't boring - it is. Without first reading the translations included in the liner notes, the album is basically useless, and probably not much more than an audio equivalent to watching Teleitalia. But even after reading the text, City Reading doesn't add to much more than a quaint exercise, albeit a well-conceived quaint exercise. City Reading perhaps isn't the most representative of Air's work, but then again, maybe it is.