Sébastien Akchoté’s return to the spotlight after a nearly 10-year hiatus practically begs him to address it in his music. Entitling the LP Thirst is a start, an acknowledgement of a nagging that probably tugged at the back of his mind. Not that SebastiAn kept himself idle since the 2011 release of Total. From the studio, he helped create songs for musicians ranging from emo legends to Francophone stalwarts. In fact, one of his collaborators, the elusive Frank Ocean, makes an appearance in the opening title track. His wails, magnified to titanic levels, signifies SebastiAn’s comeback while also clearing a path for him to stomp through.
As if rising from a long slumber, Thirst spends its initial moments gathering its strength and shedding its burdens. Tempos lumber and lurch forward by crashing down onto the beat, surrounded by mantras repeated, sometimes to death, by featured vocalists. Syd’s softness lends a contrast to the steamrolling beat behind “Doorman,” whose kiss-off subject matter would benefit from being a little lighter on its own feet like this. The languid production finds better usage in “Movement” and “Better Now”, where Mayer Hawthorne’s pining feels much more applicable to such lethargy. Longtime collaborators such as Hawthorne and Charlotte Gainsbourg further confirm their artistic compatibility with the French DJ, Gainsbourg bringing much menace with a mere whisper on “Pleasant.”
Though the first half of the record blends well, Thirst becomes more pleasurable towards its mid-section. “Beograd” may double as a Rest instrumental, but it at least attempts to pick up the pace amid the moderato temp the record adheres to. “Sev,” named after its mesmerizing featured player, is so close to getting it right by combining her throaty, lower register with hissing percussion, only for it to end about a minute too soon. Its middle string section, like the four-on-the-floor that emerges at the tail end of “Sober,” deserves a bit longer for the listener to enjoy, yet both moments are cut too short.
A bit of positivity peaks through on “Time to Talk,” whose swinging beat and disco strings are a welcome reprieve from much of Thirst’s darkness and unease. The humor on “Handcuffed to a Parking Meter” allows for another moment of sunshine as well, though the repeated lyrics eventually dull it down to something that becomes annoying. While the album plays well as a whole, its build-up never quite leads to a thrilling rush or spectacle.
The most apt metaphor for the sense of almost-climax in Thirst comes through on “Yebo.” The four-note climb coupled with Allan Kingdom’s anxious bars suggests a coming apex, or drop, that never quite materializes even after the drums arrive. This inching towards a big finish or grand slam is certainly represented in the album artwork’s scuffle. The downed player sees the punch coming, yet it hangs above their head, taunting and tormenting them never to bring come down. It would be better, too, if SebastiAn just slammed the ears with something unanticipated instead of hinting at it.