Feature Creep Leads To Mixed Results
The classic Ed Banger Records sound is seemingly dead. Mr. Oizo, Justice, and hell even Kavinsky have been seemingly left behind in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Long gone are the impressive plunderphonics, signature bass twang, and French House mastery that launched them, SebastiAn included, into the forefront of dance music. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Well if you are like me, you were highly anticipating any new music from SebastiAn since 2011’s classic, Total. It’s heavy use of plunderphonics to create a dark brooding Electro Disco experience was pulled off to near perfection. But here we are in 2019 with a new SebastiAn album in my hands and I find myself extremely disappointed.
I never expected that he would go the same exact route with the music, for goodness’ sakes the sample clearance for a second round would be insanity, but really at the end of the day I expected a more well thought out and complete album experience. I actually love a good portion of this album. “Pleasant” is anything but; Charlotte Gainsbourg’s sampled and glitchy verse delivery works perfectly in tandem with the dark and driving beat. It unfortunately peters out in the end after a killer buildup, at least a transition into a higher-velocity track would have helped that case. “Sober” sounds like a lost track to Kids See Ghosts, I don’t necessarily know who Bakar is but this track at least has me interested in his Kid Cudi-esque vocal style. “Time to Talk” and “Beograd” are just classic French House through and through. Addicting candy-coated bass line over some synthetic Disco beats and glitchy developments along the way, the primo track of the album. The Sparks feature on this album, “Handcuffed to a Parking Meter” is more like a literal Sparks song. Not that I’m complaining…they own it. Honestly if there were a lot of tracks like this, I wouldn’t mind a full SebastiAn and Sparks collab. Their style works so well with Electro Disco, of course see their amazing album with Giorgio Moroder, N° 1 in Heaven. While I do love this track, it does come out of nowhere and highlights my key issue with the album, it’s flow.
Transitions are few and far between here, and particularly are bad when between the songs I like and the songs that just do not work. Sandwiching an upbeat track like “Movement” between the soulful “Doorman” featuring Syd and poppy “Better Now” is not a good fit. Speaking of the bread of that sandwich, those features end up being bland marks on otherwise good production. If you are privy to my review of Gorillaz’ Humanz, you’ll maybe see where I find issues on this album. Features for sake of features that don’t fit the bill of music. The drive to include so many features dilutes the overall impact of the production and as a result the project as a whole loses cohesion. The middle portion of the album, “Yebo”, “Sev”, and “スィート Sweet”, are a perfect example of this issue. Each one has interesting production that should have either had a more fitting feature (potentially a reused one) or perhaps adding more melodic through-lines from SebastiAn. Even the closer “Run for Me” has such an artificial weight brought to it with it’s stereotypical Pop anthem vibes and vocal delivery from Gallant.
So yeah I liked some of this but disliked the core of the project. It just seems like a classic case of being given a check to create something great, shown by the breadth of features and production, but either lacking the ideas to make it cohesive enough. Sure some tracks are great, features included, but I feel like the soul of the SebastiAn project was really lost in the weeds on this project. Great ideas in a lot of cases but poor execution overall. At the end of the day French House is a dying genre, giving into the grassroots movement of Vaporwave and Future Funk, and SebastiAn decided to move more in the direction of Alternative R&B and Electropop. I can definitely see a case for it with this release, but to have any success he really needs to refine the sound instead of this mixed approach.