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Sébastien Tellier - Domesticated Music Album Reviews

The idiosyncratic electro-pop singer-songwriter (and Eurovision contestant) turns his pen to the mundane magic of household chores, but it too often looks like he missed a spot.

Avast amount of music is consumed at home, often lightening the domestic chores that map out our days. It’s a surprise, then, that so few musicians draw direct inspiration from the day-to-day grind of domesticity. Gnomic French musician Sébastien Tellier says that his sixth album, Domesticated, was inspired by dirty dishes in the sink, soiled laundry on the floor, and the two children responsible for so much of that mess; reflecting that mundane magic, its eight songs drift by on a light glaze of electro disco.
This kind of mischievous concept suits Tellier, a singer who mixes the exotic with the humdrum and the sublime with the ridiculous. You can imagine him pushing the vacuum cleaner around his chic Paris apartment to the disco boogie of “Venezia,” while the Valium melancholy on a song like “Stuck in a Summer Love” raises the mournful spirit of Chris de Burgh’s ’80s standard “The Lady in Red.” Both songs seem tailor-made for washing up tearfully to daytime radio.
On the whole, though, Tellier doesn’t seem to land the theme. “A Ballet,” for example, plays on the French word for “broom" (“balai”), a borderline pun that few listeners outside of France will understand, while the very repetitive lyrics to “Domestic Tasks” barely expand on the promise of the title. It’s not that this record is ill suited to domesticity, exactly, but if someone claimed that Domesticated was actually about round-the-world yachting or Olympic diving you could easily believe them.

Luckily, Tellier has a production concept too. His aim on Domesticated was to assemble a new wave of producers—including Jam City and France’s Corentin Kerdraon, aka NIT—to create a futuristic pop sound, leaving him free to concentrate on his supposed melodic strengths. The result is a devilishly lush instrumental vibe, whose wipe-clean aesthetic brings to mind ’80s pop refracted through the robotic luster of Jam City’s Classical Curves. “A Ballet” comes replete with soaring sax break and aching Art of Noise chords, while the electro-synth shuffle of “Hazy Feelings” seems to crave the sweetly anachronistic release of a slap bass, without ever giving in to temptation.

These production choices—while not as futuristic as Tellier might like to believe—do at least fit with Domesticated’s homely theme, gleaming like the well-polished kitchen surfaces of a Patrick Bateman fantasy. But Tellier’s unassuming voice, so touching in its modesty on his 2003 classic “La Ritournelle,” suffers from the slaver of vocoder-esque effects. It sounds at times like Tellier is singing with a mouthful of porridge from the back of a wardrobe, the lyrics indiscernible to all but his closest associates, which leaves the melodies with a heavy emotional weight to convey.

This shouldn’t be a problem: you don’t represent France in the Eurovision Song Contest (as Tellier did in 2008) without being able to pen a golden refrain. But the album’s odd moments of melodic sparkle—the winsome desire lines of “Won” or the doleful swoon of “Oui”—are never quite enough, symptomatic of a record that comes tantalizingly close to satisfying without quite scaling the heights. Domesticated is a concept album whose concept falls flat; a shot at the future that’s too in debt to the past; a brilliant idea consumed by inertia—less back-breaking deep clean than half-hearted tidy.

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