Air, “Talkie Walkie” (Astralwerks) [3.5 stars]

The French ambient/electronica duo Air, a.k.a. Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel, are probably best known to the world at large for their soundtrack work on the films of Sofia Coppola, including their contributions to “The Virgin Suicides” and the haunting central theme of “Lost in Translation.” In the underground dance world, though, fans have been waiting for them to match or better the lulling mix of Orb or Aphex Twin-style electronic experimentation, old-fashioned Brian Wilson pop charm and Pink Floyd psychedelia presented on their strongest album to date, 1998’s debut, “Moon Safari.”

“Talkie Walkie” doesn’t top that disc, but it comes in as a close second. This time, the pair augments its wonderfully antiquate analog synthesizer sounds and the sonic washes of newer electronic gear by lending their own vocals for the first time, and the duo finds its way once again after 2001’s disappointing “10,000 Hz Legend.” Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich takes the helm, and the disc builds to a strong close to “Alone in Kyoto,” the track the pair recorded for “Lost in Translation.” But the nine tracks that precede that cut, including “Venus,” “Universal Traveler” and “Mike Mills” (which may be a tribute to R.E.M.’s bassist and greatest musical talent) are all equally seductive and effective as beautiful modern background/mood music.

Jim DeRogatis

Poster Children, “No More Songs About Sleep and Fire” (Hidden Agenda) [3.5 stars]

It’s been easy to take Poster Children for granted for some time now—the group formed down in Champaign way back in 1987, straddled the transition from indie heroes to major-label comers during the alternative explosion, then returned to the ranks of the indies once more post-Lollapalooza. Always a gripping live act, their success has been more mixed on album. But with its conscious nod to Talking Heads’ classic “More Song About Buildings and Food” in the title, “No More Songs About Sleep and Fire” finds the quartet not only sounding more inspired than ever, but more relevant, neatly outdoing the likes of newer bands such as Hot Hot Heat, the Rapture and Interpol who’ve been hailed as part of the “New Wave of New Wave.”

The arty, fractured minimalism of post-punk art-rock (the “old New Wave”?) lives on in short, brutally efficient but instantly infectious tracks such as “Jane” and “Fly”—the 12 tracks here whiz by in just over 37 minutes, conveying a frantic energy that will tempt you to start pogoing around your living room like the best of the vintage Heads, Gang of Four, Wire or Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

Jim DeRogatis