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The King of France

The King of France

(Echo; US: 27 Sep 2005; UK: Available as import)

Some Differences Between the Kings of France and the King of France

Henry IV connected Paris’ Right Bank and Left Bank with the Pont Neuf bridge.


The King of France connects the ramshackle floppy-pop of your indie band du jour with concrete anchor points: doo wop, barrelhouse, modest daydreams of stadium refrains. Perhaps that’s not tantamount to urban unification, but it’s something. As a result, the New York City band—singer-songwriter Steve Salad with noted music journalist Michael Azerrad on drums—is most likely uttered in the same sentence as “quirky”, blessed or cursed as that tag may be. However it’ll come to be defined (as an interrogator of grinning, ramshackle collegiate pop, armed with soul-revealing Velvet Underground floodlights?), the King of France has suddenly found itself the toast of advertising firms and arthouses, a bit of good luck that bodes well for its new self-titled record. You may have seen Salad brandishing his Telecaster in recent promotional spots for MTV’s The Real World: Austin; in addition, two songs from The King of France will be featured in the upcoming fall movies The Baxter and Winter Passing. This either means that the King of France has exceptional business savvy, or ad execs have wised up to the persuasive power of idiosyncratic pop: “Just a Body”, in particular, is a motley combination of Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man”, a very elemental interpretation of classical music, and a Talking Heads mantra.


Louis XIII married Anne of Austria in 1615, but did not consummate their marriage until four years later.


The King of France’s singer/songwriter Steve Salad makes strange bedfellows with… himself. Wait, is that possible? Yes: in one measure, he’s high-pitched and trembling like Daniel Johnston; in the next, he’s plunged octaves, like They Might Be Giants’ John Flansberg impersonating Interpol. Salad’s vocal takes are little roller coaster rides without the motion sickness. Or the sung conversations of a split personality without the implied need for institutionalization. And although he sounds as if he could fly off the handle at any moment, Salad frequently elevates his deep-seated quirk to moments of moving elegance: “a-ha-ha-ha-ha” he dementedly hiccups in “Moon”, and this dedication to the sincere, wordless chortle is both reassuring and befuddling. You’re drawn to the vocal’s incident, but aren’t so sure what to make of it. You know when you’re captivated with a furrowed brow?


In 1685, Louis XIV issued an edict prohibiting the practice of any religion but Catholicism.


The King of France, contrary to its very name, isn’t one to enforce monarchies or universal belief systems. In fact, it’s not exactly one to boast an impenetrable wall of solid self-esteem; “Tonight I’m gonna throw myself at anyone who cares” is one of its many attempts to turn self-deprecation into a solicitation of sympathy. Perhaps the King of France plays, not for itself, but for anyone who cares. That someone could be you, but that all depends on how you react to springy, tinkling pianos and tales of Mexico-bound escape.


Louis XVI was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death by guillotine.


Sheesh, 18th century, such violence! Rest assured, the King of France’s self-titled record does not come with any beheadings. There is that one song, “Future Killer”, ridiculously catchy and wriggly, in which Azerrad proving that writers can also be musicians and Salad toys with the impression of prophecy. I’m not sure who “the man” is (although, thanks to Salad’s vivid lyrics, I could probably describe his face to a police sketch artist), but I’ll heed the King of France’s advice to stay clear of him. Because liking a good pop song is simply following instructions. “Watch Out for the Man” is both sweet and prickly, a rubbery chunk of bubblegum jangle, the kind of little pop nugget that’ll slip between the cracks and end up slicing an unsuspecting finger. I mean, “he’s cut himself and he’ll cut you dry with his quarter knife”—this is the kind of warning pop music should supply.


As the only living heir to the throne, Louis XV was pronounced King at the age of five.


I’m bad with age approximations, but I’m thinking that the King of France is a bit older—for those expecting the male version of Smoosh, continue your search. But if you want real men, blemished and bold, members of a cliquey metropolis but outsiders at heart, then The King of France awaits your inspection. “You need man with macho endorsements,” Salad acknowledges in “Beautiful Horses”, and then turns to near-self-sabotage, adding, “We both know maybe mine are a little too fey / But don’t you wanna stay?” The King of France is like Salad’s candor: confident enough to recognize its flaws and still flaunt some backbone.

Rating:

Zeth Lundy has been writing for PopMatters since 2004. He is the author of Songs in the Key of Life (Continuum, 2007), and has contributed to the Boston Phoenix, Metro Boston, and The Oxford American. He lives in Boston.


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