Sebastien Schuller: Happiness

By Shain Shapiro

Chill out music can be uplifting or downright sorrowful. Very few bands are capable of combining the two. Sigur Ros and The Album Leaf are rare examples of artists who pull off this mish-mash. Furthermore, there is usually a sense of travel to chill out music, a sojourn in sound that comes from lengthy, drawn out chords that bubble and squeak through pastures of texture. Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions In The Sky are both bands that brilliantly pull this off, adding a touch of distortion that transforms chill-out into post-rock. Sunrise, sunset.

Now let us talk about Sebastien Schuller and his debut full-length. He is Parisian, and Happiness is definitely an exercise in some sort of chill-out, from the overemphasizing synthesizer tones to the careful, almost meticulous drum machines and flicker of guitar strings. France has a lengthy relationship with this music, as the whole thematic notion of chill out is a Parisian invention. Air, Charlotte Gainsbourg and countless others are leaders in extrapolating the chill into sound.

Schuller is a classically trained percussionist, though Happiness is miles from anything remotely classical or percussive. The songwriting is comparable to other releases well-suited for a sidewalk café off the Champs D’Elysses, especially on leading single “Weeping Willow” and “Edward’s Hand.”

Despite what the title implies, this is not a happy release. Happiness careens into a much more mournful camp. Each song is minor key and dreary like a December in Amsterdam. Schuller sounds like many a demon was stabbed in the recording process, from a relationship demise to pestering self-confidence issues. “Tears Coming Home” and “Alone You Walk” are both climactic, quiescent electro-ballads that speak to one’s insecurities. This is a modestly impressive debut from a virtual unknown in the field – a release that showcases his talent, arranging skills and brilliant percussive tones, despite being a downer to listen to.

JamBase | Paris
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