Romain Gavras definitely took a gamble in choosing SebastiAn to score his debut feature. The controversial music video director (best known for M.I.A.’s brutal “Born Free” clip), endeavoring to fashion a film on the premise of two redheads escaping the prejudices of modern France in “a hallucinatory quest for a land of imagined freedom,” hired for his soundtrack an electro DJ known mostly for colossal bangers and hard-hitting remixes of The Kills and Kelis. Although the majority of what SebastiAn releases tends to be anywhere between solid and phenomenal, he’s only got a clutch of singles and one remix collection to his name (ongoing delays of his debut album have outlasted most people’s interest in him), so there’s barely enough to get a fair read on what he can do.
The choice makes sense, though; it’s easy to imagine Gavras’ penchant for visual violence finding a natural complement in SebastiAn’s equally physical cuts and beats. But here, SebastiAn takes a bit of a gamble himself; this soundtrack for Notre Jour Viendra (Our Day Will Come) is unlike anything he’s ever done before. It is, with a couple exceptions, a foray into ambient classical.
So it’s something of a gamble for the listener, too — although one that asks little (with 13 tracks in 20 minutes, this is more a mini-LP than anything), and gives much in return. SebastiAn doesn’t waste a moment throughout, and if that’s him doing the playing, then he reveals himself to be a far greater pianist than anyone could’ve previously imagined — and even if not, then at least a far more inspired composer. The disconsolate interplay between the chords and grace-noted melody at the end of “Ad Gloriam” make for a subtle stunner, and the unexpected dovetail in the middle of “Fauve (Epilogue)” could make a soul swoon. The musicianship and composition is wonderful throughout, but those two tracks alone could make one wonder why SebastiAn evidently holds back so much of his skill for his club material.
The centerpiece, “Retro,” is aptly titled as the disc’s one recognizably SebastiAn track, lush with timeworn synths and head-banging impact. But on either end of the disc, the electro influences can only be found in delicate touches, like a tense string swell or dark arpeggio. For the most part, Notre Jour Viendra brings to mind Basinski’s Melancholia, Eno’s work with Harold Budd, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s work with Alva Noto, Aphex Twin’s more classical productions, and Dustin O’Halloran’s opuses. There are a couple moments that recall Serge Gainsbourg’s own great soundtrack work, and “L’Enfrance d’un Chien” sounds like a somber Air track graced by Gas’ knack for mesmerizing background noise. It goes without saying, then, that SebastiAn’s achieved something pretty unique here.
This comes as a particularly big win for Ed Banger, seeing how this is easily the best thing they’ve released at least since SebastiAn’s own 2008 Remixes disc, and arguably even Justice’s first album. More importantly, it’s finally a promising sign for SebastiAn’s proper debut — due January — which previously seemed like a bit of a lost cause. Notre Jour Viendra beats the odds and suggests that this guy’s day will indeed come — that is, if this isn’t it already.