I went to Sebastien Tellier's press reception at the Alliance Française last year. From the street the place looked unassuming like a large city cafe. We entered through the lobby to what I now thought would be a low key affair, and were ushered into an elevator. It went up enough levels that I got the feeling that we were going to a secret government base, except instead of being a bunker engaged in espionage, being French, it was essentially a penthouse dedicated to the very serious business of the arts.
I attached a supplied badge of Tellier's face to my lapel and he entered looking every bit the dude from his pictures. The press conference began, and it became apparent from the questions asked that his music had supplied the soundtrack to many of the reporters' romantic moments. Around the room I saw familiar faces, usual cool exteriors eclipsed by the the fluster caused by seeing the man that provided the soundtrack for date night. He was generous with his answers and quick to compliment others. When asked what other artists he was listening to he excitedly mentioned Record Makers label mate Kavinsky.
It was done, Sebastien and the Record Makers people stayed enjoying the wine and cheese. I noticed they had the good champagne, so I went over. He was keen to talk about how much he liked Sydney, grateful that his local tour drummer Daniel Stricker was being an excellent guide. Like many visitors he was enjoying Bondi, but was still getting a chance to see other areas -his favourite restaurant so far was Surry Hills' well loved Porteño. We got talking about why he thought France has produced so much electronic music. He said it was from necessity, that as people often live in apartments and they have no choice but to make music in bedrooms with headphones. I laughed and replied that what stuck out in that response is the desire not to annoy their neighbours, that here we'd do it anyway. Was great talking to him, such a chill guy. A reminder that you can be a superstar boss without becoming a dick.
If you're unfamiliar and want a quick introduction to some of his most popular tracks check out his album Sexuality and in particular the tracks: Devine (that he also played at Eurovision), Look, Kilometre, L'Amour Et La Violence. They all have great videos. There's a live performance of "L'Amour Et La Violence" at L'Olympia on Record Makers channel that is epic. If you delve further and check out 2001 L'incroyable Vérité you'll see that amongst all the bitter sweet joy, sex and humour there's a dark edge to his music that gives it substance, and a little madness.
It's hard to know if he's serious or silly, or seriously silly. There's so much self parody that I can't tell where the man and the performance begin and end. The ambiguity of it is what makes repeat listening for me enjoyable.
The first taste we had of his new album My God Is Blue was in the form of a music video for the song "Pepito Bleu" (also the opening track of the album). I loved it, but it only reinforced my confusion. The video opens in a garden planet paradise, Tellier is fired into the heavens in a spaceship made of light to escape an exploding planet like Kal-El escaping Krypton. That I can watch this and find it captivating instead of hopelessly cheesy is puzzling. So while I wouldn't argue if you said it made you gag, I think it's totally awesome. The video has english subtitles and Tellier plays prophet singing on columned pantheon steps. Bearded and howling like Kronos about to devour his children with glowing Dune-spice eyes as his gathering followers approach, he starts: "To begin Heaven's prayer, I'm going to sit down adorned with blue pepito cookies" Huh? Subtitles normally make things clearer.
Musically it's a beautiful song. I annoyed my housemates by listening to it on repeat for a day. I tried my best to make sense of this blue cookie business. The theories I came come up with were: 1. meeting god with child like innocence 2. it's dada 3. a drug reference ala disco biscuits/cookies 4. a reference to the blue pearls of Buddhism that you see on the path to enlightenment. But why was I enjoying it and taking it remotely seriously if I didn't know what it was about? I would put it down to the air of sincerity. Tellier has the ability to perform totally over the top stuff and still seem totally serious. I'm still uncertain if that makes him serious or silly. Either way I'm definitely impressed or confused.
I asked friends both from Australia and France what they thought about the song and my blue cookie theories. The consensus was that I had gone strange in the head. In the end of the video the message "join" flashes on the screen. I already had my Tellier head badge from the press conference so I was clearly in the club and was ready for more of the blue kool aid. In the lead up to the album's release via social media he sent out "Message Blue" aphorisms for his would be followers. Here are a random selection for you to ponder:
#5 "Cultivating madness is a duty"
#6 "Now we are born we must live our lives freely"
#27 "To be understood is the finality of art"
#29 "you have to be seen to make a spectacle of yourself"
I'll leave it to you guys to explore the fortune cookie wisdom further.
As I hold the album in my hands looking at the blue jesus Tellier on the cover and checking out the blue rollacoster video on the Alliance Blue website, I'm beginning to get a firmer grasp of why I responded so positively to the "Pepito Blue" track. The closest parallel in terms of deification of an artist in a video that jumps to mind would have to be Kaynye West's "Power" video and as amazing as it is it ultimately makes me think Kanye is a doosh. Converse to Kanye, even when godlike Tellier has humour in place of ego. It's the antidote to Kanye West. My confusion reflects that his music is not prescriptive or pedagogic, it's playful. It leaves room for your imagination, not simply imposes his. Perhaps, like his aforementioned message blue #27, that it is not quite understandable means that his art is not over yet. Perhaps I should just shut up and dance.
Track #2 "The Colour of Your Mind" initially takes a more ominous tone, quite an attention grabbing departure after "Pepito Bleu". This is momentary. A slow grinding beat and some calypso sounds come in and then the lyrics "I love you.." and we're back in sex soundtrack land. It's a bit intense so you might want to save it for the middle of the mixtape and definitely not for a first date. Like the first track it ends leaving me wanting more.
This is the pattern that the album follows, quite distinct styles and moods, linked by brief interludes/sonic transitions. Track #3 starts with lofi strings and has a more chanson feeling. That is until the funk beat and horns kick in and we're suddenly somewhere else entirely. That's the fun of the album, it takes you in directions and combines elements you wouldn't expect. In track #4 "Cochon Ville" the funky elements come well and truly to the foreground. This bit of disco gold was the other video release before the album. In the video for this song Tellier looks less like the demigod of "Pepito Bleu" and more like the mad monk Rasputin, crazy eyed and watching what initially seems like an Ibiza dance party progress in to a Dionysian mix of transgressive sex and violence. You'll have to stray off the popular online video site if you want to see the uncensored version.
In the opening of "Magical Hurricane" track #5 we get a flute and chime sound that you might expect when the good witch casts a spell or as the page turn cue on a children's audio book. This reinforces the album's already clear sense of chapters. The stripped back guitar strikes me as the first sustained really natural sounding instrument. But don't get too comfortable, even a seemingly simple song like this is still sent into an other worldly direction through subtle natural sounds like water splashes, double tracked vocals, and a slightly out of tune piano. The latter adding a madness to the loneliness of the song. The loneliness becomes spiritual as the we transition into a long church organ build. The producer Mr Flash did an excellent job.
In "Russian Attractions" Track #6 the sex beat is back this time with a gothic slant as the spiritual loneliness of the previous track transforms into sexual longing: "I love you, I love you…". The tone brings Depeche Mode to mind. Track #7 "Mayday" is a vegas-casiotone-wedding-elevator-musik-love-song, that could be the end credits theme for an anime series. In "Draw Your World" track #8 we take a breath with a instrumental wailing 80s guitars and drum rolls, and his familiar oft kilter synth. Track #9's title "My Poseidon" gives me hope that some light will be shed on the albums concept, how foolish of me. #10 "Against the Law" has a full on 80s future sound film score feel. The lyrics go "yes, against the law" rock on. Then as far as I can tell he starts singing in French about hairdressers and I'm well and truly felling that the album is an exercise in Dada cut up. I'm happily lost!
I'll leave #11 the title track for you to decode as part of you initiation into Alliance Blue. The final track "Yes, it's Possible" feels like an overture to the the entire album, except at the end. Maybe it's a hint I should listen to the whole thing backwards.
There are other songs in his catalogue that will always stand out as favourites, but as a record in it's entirety My God is Blue is my favourite to date. Unfortunately I don't think it'll ever make it to a sex mix tape for me. Not because the music isn't right for it, far from it. But having met the man it'd be potentially difficult not to picture him at the time, and as gushing as my review may seem, he's not my type. It wouldn't even be a good orgasm delaying technique; closing your eyes and imagining Sebastien Tellier would only work until your mojo completely evaporates when you realise that your lover's imagining him too.
Sebastien, thank you for the tunes and the champagne. Keep up the good work Record Makers. We at the AU love your style.
Review Score: 9.0 out of 10.