Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A persistent whistle helps Air take its name literally

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re picking our favorite songs with whistling.

I discovered Air’s “Alpha Beta Gaga” the same way I came across a lot of new music in college: Through a friend’s party mix. My undergrad studies occurred after the proliferation of CD-R but prior to the iOS remote (prior to the iOS anything, actually), so my social circle was made up of mix-CD people. “Alpha Beta Gaga” turned up on one disc my buddy Matthew was particularly fond of, a weekend soundtrack that paired the jaunty Air single with the likes of Modest Mouse’s “Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes,” Jennifer Gentle’s “I Do Dream You,” and “Les Lumieres Pt. 2” by the Arcade Fire offshoot Bell Orchestre. (My memory’s hazy—hey, that was the idea—but this must’ve been the 2005-06 school year, because only people desperate for a Funeral follow-up would consider Bell Orchestre “party music.”) We were a rowdy bunch, but you could always tell when this particular CD came on; the piercing whistle of “Alpha Beta Gaga,” like Sam Taylor on a dampened pharmacy PA, cut through any noise.

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A whistling melody is a particularly appropriate route for Air to take: Few musical acts live up to their name like France’s most celebrated electronic duo (non-robot division), whose moody atmospherics sound, in the most facile of descriptions, “like air.” And what’s whistling if not the simplest method of making music with Air? Maybe all of those late nights with “Alpha Beta Gaga” permanently ruined my ability to comment on the song in a coherent, critical fashion, but its appeal goes deeper than the preceding Intro To Philosophy babble: It’s pretty much the theme song Ennio Morricone would’ve composed for Sergio Leone’s Westworld. And if that’s not enough of a ringing endorsement for you: Trust me when I say it’s great music for drinking 80 ounces of malt liquor.

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