Don’t let the album’s title fool you. It’s 2006, all right. But French Kicks don’t care. They emerged in 2002, sounding like the hazy day, lazy mood cousins of the Strokes and, dagnabbit, these guys aren’t changing a darn thing. A New York City indie rock quartet, the Kicks are the easiest-to-ignore band from a whole generation of local groups that all landed recording contracts right around the same time, including Interpol, the Walkmen, Liars, and, of course, the aforementioned Strokes, kings of the scene. Each of these other bands has an identifiable sound, a particular aura surrounding them, a (if you will) “thing.” The Strokes do rock ‘n’ roll, Interpol are post-punk, Liars make noise, and the Walkmen … well, they’re floundering a little at the moment. French Kicks, though, their “thing” seems to be unobtrusive indie pop/rock. This makes for a hard sell. How can we feel passionate about a band who recede into the background?
When their debut, One Time Bells, arrived, we were all clambering for as much of that fresh NYC vibe as we could soak into our needy hearts, having suffered mightily through the musical wasteland of the late ‘90s and early aughts. We gulped up French Kicks’ first album, sure. We were happy for its chimey presence, but, moreover, we were elated by the movement as a whole. If this same album came out in 2006, with that scene fragmenting and evolving and its importance diminished, I don’t know that One Time Bells would make much of an impact.
That hypothesis, it turns out, is easy to test. Two Thousand doesn’t stray much from the formula established on Bells. And it barely budges at all from the feel of their follow-up release, 2004’s The Trial of the Century. Their debut, at least, had some character; some chutzpah. As with the current indie rock sound in general, French Kicks, too, started with sharper melodic angles and a rougher, sparer aesthetic. These edges were sanded down to a dull, child-safe blahness on Trial, a lackluster CD which fell under the spell of the classic sophomore jinx. Fortunately, the band has discovered the secret to imbuing their mellow tones with a lively sparkle, a shimmery glean. This shiny new coat doesn’t necessarily equate to vital, compelling music, but it does the raise the quality of the mostly passive listening experience.
And that experience is something akin to what would happen if Television played the Talking Heads song “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”. Ten times in a row. To the band’s credit, combining this tingly, floaty dream-mood with vocals that borrow Tom Verlaine’s New York drawl is a great idea. But not 10 times in a row. Every song seems to run at roughly the same tempo, and any shifts in mood are too subtle to mark the passing of one track to the next. Ultimately, though, the album’s greatest deficit is its lack of strong and memorable melodic ideas. A few of the better moments, found in relatively punchy numbers such as “So Far We Are” and “Keep It Amazed”, feature catchy guitar lines, and the latter track even has some bite to it. Too many other tracks—“Also Rain”, “Basement: D.C.”, “Hey I Wait I”—give us nothing to latch onto. They are merely amorphous patches of the same pleasant fog. Too often, the music on the album lies flatly before us, neither luring us in nor slapping us to attention. The record just hangs there. French Kicks have become indie rock wallpaper, and Two Thousand, while perfectly enjoyable, is, all in all, just another sheet on the wall.
// Notes from the Road
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