Sébastien Tellier has a preternatural ability to compose compelling songs and score cues across the spectrum of musical experience: electric and acoustic, synthesized and organic, minimal or maximal; genre notwithstanding. On his new soundtrack, A Girl Is a Gun (Music from the Original Series), Tellier uses this skill to great effect to support a grindhouse-style digital series about women who fight the sexist and exploitative system in which we live.
The French musician leans heavily on the synth side of things, occasionally touching on an acoustic-organic realm that’s peppered with maximal breaks amid an otherwise stripped-down set body of music.
A Girl Is a Gun is steeped in the spirit of the synth arrangements of his masterpiece albums Sexuality, produced by Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo in 2008, and My God Is Blue, the Mr. Flash-produced revelation that rained down on us in 2012. These were bathed in that French Touch tendency to take what could be considered cheesy or ham-fisted from the past and make it sound serious, important, and even cool.
Only this time, Tellier overlays that electronic approach with elements that evoke the 1980s work of classic synth-driven score composers Tangerine Dream — especially Thief — and even synthwave acts like Power Glove or Makeup and Vanity Set. This is fascinating, given that it was the French Touch artists’ propensity for reinvigorating the present with elements of the past that gave us synthwave in the first place. To an extent, it’s like after 12-plus years everything has come full-circle.
All of that color and style would only go so far if Tellier didn’t back it up with well-written songs and instrumental cues. Well, no surprise, he has, and has done so with great concision. Going back to his 2001 debut album, L’incroyable Vérité, on cuts like “Fantino,” the Parisian has always been able to extract beautifully compelling and catchy compositions from the most minimal series of notes and chords. “Kilometer” from Sexuality packs similar punch — albeit tapping into different emotions. On A Girl Is a Gun, he’s still at it. This collection is spectacular.
I’ll just start off with my favorite cut on the album, “Lovely Blonde,” a hypnotic vocal synth-pop song drenched in the aroma of the Tellier vibe. He sings in his smooth, nonchalant manner over catchy, intricate, and intimate synths, all of which are supported by a rhythmic groove with a bit of a bounce. It all sounds great together, showcasing his talent as an expert arranger.
“Powered Girls” is constructed in the vain of the albums and soundtracks he’s made since 2014, starting with album L’Aventura and continuing with the likes of the score for Marie et les naufragés. There’s emotive piano, synth-string stabs, chunky funky bass mixed prominently, entrancing counter melodies, and drums that sound real and mechanistic. Everything is packed tightly, but within that discipline is a world of expression.
“Wings” is an interesting hybrid of French Touch-infused synthwave and Tellierisms. The medium-paced, tightly compressed banger of a beat, the minor-chord synth choir, and the dense, slightly detuned arpeggiations recall the darkly tinged machinations of Power Glove (with a dose of Dance with the Dead). However, this being Tellier, there’s more to it. The synthy melody flying over all of this is paradoxically uplifting. The song starts off with morose uncertainty, but ends with a feeling of resolute possibility. These wings help set us free.
As I listened to this release, it struck me that this was much more of an intimate affair than Tellier’s previous soundtrack efforts. It turns out that behind the Denise Richards-starring, LA-based, French web series is longtime Tellier friend Mathieu Tonetti, who has directed music videos for Phoenix, Air, Daft Punk, and Tellier.
Tellier and Tonetti’s friendship goes back to their teenage years, when they were still budding creators of sound and visual art. When they were a bit older, they would watch films like Starship Troopers and engage in the sacred act of creation, according to press materials from label Record Makers. Eventually, Tonetti would shoot the video for “Universe,” Tellier’s debut video from L’incroyable Vérité. The videos for the other members of this extremely talented and exclusive cadre were mixed in there.
So Tellier’s personal life is wrapped up in this soundtrack for a series that stars the very woman who kicked ass in the very film he and Tonetti enjoyed together 20 years ago. Full circle.
Even if A Girl Is a Gun is a campy take on a serious issue, the series and Tellier’s soundtrack couldn’t come at a better time. Variety describes the show as “a grindhouse-style feminist series turning on three powerful women on a mission to fight misogyny at all costs.” Certainly this is of the utmost relevance at a moment when men of immense power seem hellbent on using and consuming women as fuel to power their oft-evil intentions; and are finally being taken to task for it. This could be Tellier’s most important release on that reality alone. That it’s in support of a story crafted by his longtime ami just makes it that much more powerful.
A Girl Is a Gun is showing now on the Blackpills digital streaming platform, available from Apple’s App Store (and probably other places). You can stream and buy the Record Makers release — including in cassette form — from Bandcamp and other places.