Review Summary: You don't need subtlety if you're already awesome.
Sebastian Akchoté doesn't deal in subtlety. He doesn't have time to, not when he's putting on some of the most exciting live shows around, plastering eye-gougings and porn into a one-and-a-half-minute music video, turning vocal samples into percussive gunshots, employing M.I.A. to spit at listeners and tell them that they need to "chill the fuck out", and, oh, passionately kissing himself on his album cover. His music is quintessential Ed Banger fodder, with its blown-out, compressed-to-shit beats that might as well have "français" branded on their asses - built for dancing, not analyzation. It's most accurately categorized as "electro house", which doesn't really capture the raw power of Akchoté's debut long-player as SebastiAn, Total
- but then again, what could? It's impossible to adequately relay the energy found throughout the album's 50-minute runtime, which is why Akchoté's use of big, brash gestures is perfectly acceptable - enjoyable
, even. Who needs nuance when you're awesome?
is really, really awesome - it's that rare dance record that sounds just as compelling and exciting on shitty computer speakers as it does on massive club subwoofers. Even more impressively, it dispels all notions that SebastiAn is purely a singles artist, taking the best elements of the producer's previous EPs and remixes and fleshing them out into a convincing, cohesive whole. Opener "Hudson River" lays the formula out clearly and efficiently, with its clipped vocal samples, massive cut-and-paste house beats built for headbanging, and primary-colored orchestral blasts that recall the prim string arrangements of classic house (minus any and all discreetness, of course). From here, Total
proceeds much like a fantastic live set, and while Akchoté's adherence to his tried-and-true formula can get tiring (the constant usage of fading and swelling in his outros gets particularly predictable), his beats and melodies are strong enough to stand on their own; the album's exhilarating opening seven-track stretch is a particularly successful fusion of traditional house and funk with SebastiAn's signature distortion.
More than that, it's a testament to the producer's remarkable ability to craft music that sounds at once familiar yet still somewhat novel, if not exactly unique
. SebastiAn is certainly treading on familiar ground here - Justice's Cross
and the acid house of Homework
are two fairly immediate points of comparison - but his touch is defter than that of Augé and Rosnay (even if Augé lends his musical sophistication to one of Total
's best tracks, "Tetra"), and he's more brazen and visceral than the agreeable robots of Daft Punk. You'd never find Thomas and Guy-Manuel making a track as hard as the brilliant "Motor", which eschews harmony entirely in favor of monolithic walls of noise. Similarly, the aforementioned M.I.A.-featuring "C.T.F.O." will sound recognizable to anybody familiar with last year's Maya
, yet the track has the sort of strong rhythmic edge that M.I.A.'s unfairly maligned third album intentionally avoided. It's hard as fuck, sure, but it's still stuff to get down to. When SebastiAn does slip up, it's the result of a discernible lack of effort - the orchestral samples of "Prime" just aren't interesting enough to sustain the song's running time, and "Arabest", the most conventional house track on the album, is pat and unremarkable. It's disappointing, sure, but at the very least, those two weak spots are placed side by side towards the center of the album, serving as an intermission before Total
kicks into high gear again.
Which, come to think of it, is almost necessary
, because music this relentlessly thunderous can be exhausting to listen to at length. Certainly, without the album's numerous transitory tracks, the brutal Prodigy-esque "Doggg" would lose some of its impact. SebastiAn's sense of structure is essential to his debut being as consistently enjoyable as it is; compelling but not pretentious, distinctive but not affected, Total
is a superb album fashionably disinterested in its own excellence. I return to those images of SebastiAn DJing in clubs grinning with a cigarette in his mouth, the perfect distillation of his aesthetic and approach. If you're after delicate shades of color, look elsewhere. Everybody else - the doors to this
garishly lighted club are wide open.