Torch songs

Sébastien Tellier's sweetly withholding jams
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In the best promo photo for Sébastien Tellier's third album, Sexuality (Record Makers), he sits in a shaft of light before a piano, his ever-present fitover sunglasses pushed up on the crown of his head, and a burnished gold hand rests on the shoulder of his Members Only jacket. Hovering over his left shoulder is a blank, benevolent casque belonging to the album's producer, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo — one half of Daft Punk. It's a silly scene of symbolic torch-passing. Outside of France, Daft Punk's role as a synecdoche for modern French pop as a whole has previously only been played by Serge Gainsbourg, and imagining the Jesus-like Tellier trying to fill out Gainsbourg's Repetto footwear and the Punks' Gap khakis simultaneously is awkward.

At points, Sexuality makes that mantle fit better. The recording starts with "Roche," its gently slapping rhythm and Moroder-esque synth-sequencing mimicking the Biarritz surf Tellier conjures as he sings, "Je sens la chaleur de l'été / C'est ahh, c'est ahh." After tackling family and politics with his debut, L'incroyable vértité (2001), and his still-more-ambitious Politics (2005), respectively, Sexuality is Tellier's latest go at finding what he calls a "master subject." The challenge here has nothing to do with taboo, but instead with how to approach such a massive topic without parroting the clichés that make it possible to talk about it in the first place.

In terms of pacing and mood, much of Sexuality stays with the tight knot of anticipation that forms in your gut before foreplay or even making out. De Homem-Christo is a light touch, and his main purpose is to keep Tellier from plunging into the masturbatory. Even if nothing here attempts to encompass the whole of human experience as Tellier's "La Ritournelle" did, the album's greatness is sublimated and spread out over its 11 tracks — plenty of time to warm up your lover, with no dips in concentration.

As with everything else on the full-length, "Roche" is nothing if not paced: the drum programming in particular has a Cartesian precision to it and the sounds are arranged in rational space. Having little to do with the labyrinthine wind-ups of Modeselektor's Eurocrunk beats and none of the oversize, bitcrushed rock kits in Justice's arsenal, Tellier seems to be working within another decade's technological limitations — the results, if not always sexy, feel somehow closer to the mood, texture, and pace of actual sex.

More than half a dozen listens into the disc, the lyrics have already given up on revealing themselves as narrative or typically poetic. The meaning is only half there on a song like closer "L'amour et la violence," with the words' other halves rolling off into pink steam over roiling classical arpeggios. With few established roles and nothing resembling an erotic scenario, Sexuality's bi-curious Franco-Teutonic funk is not quite enough to establish sensuousness and romance in brains scorched by the general availability of hardcore porn and its imaginary, but it's one of the best places we can start. *

SÉBASTIEN TELLIER

With Hearts Revolution, Lilofee, and DJ sets by Black Shag, BT Magnum, and Safety Scissors

Thurs/4, doors 9 p.m., $15 advance

Mezzanine

444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880

www.mezzaninesf.com

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