Sebastien Schuller Happiness (Minty Fresh) For the first time since Serge Gainsbourg, 'French' and 'pop' are two words that don't seem absurd when used in combination. The success of Air and Phoenix has brought some musical dignity to their homeland, and the latest in this new wave is Sebastien Schuller. On his debut outing, this classically trained percussionist from the Paris suburbs covers much of the same territory (dreamy electronica and soft retro-pop), but annexes it for his own melancholy purposes. Sadness pervades the set, from the fuzzy, buzzy nostalgia of opener 1978 onwards. The instrumentals - which make up nearly half the album - paint a grey-scale rainbow of longing, with keyboard and synth, muted horns, slow drums, and subtle guitar. When he does sing, Schuller's voice is somewhere between the keening distance of Thom Yorke and Chris Martin's nasal twang, and although his lyrics are in English, they're often distorted by the layers of sound. Which is fine, because the haunting melodies come over stronger than any words. As most of his songs clock in around the five-minute mark, Schuller has plenty of time to explore changing textures, as in the rising golden tides of Donkey Boy and the eventually rocking Ride Along the Cliff. And there are undercurrents of hope, in the twinkling bells of Where We Had Never Gone or the driving momentum of the stand-out single Tears Coming Home. This beautiful song even evokes Gainsbourg himself in its use of 1960s strings, and might make the master proud. Sad but catchy, electronic but warm, Happiness is good news for the future of French pop.