[11 June 2003]

By Thomas Bartlett


Best Band the New York City Band Craze Left Behind

The King of France formed a little over a year ago—pretty good timing for a band from Brooklyn—but they didn’t fit in with the Strokes-stoked New York City rock revival: they’re not cute enough, a bit too old, and a bit too good. But if a band’s popularity is to be measured by the fervor, not the quantity, of its admirers, then the King of France is a very popular band indeed. Their frequent New York City shows are usually sparsely attended, but there’s a group of 15 or so hardcore devotees who show up at every concert. They stand in a line at the front, dance manically, mime the drum parts in perfect synchronicity, and sing along with every word (especially impressive, considering that none of these songs are available on recordings). These people may well be crazy—in fact, having spoken with a few of them, I’m quite sure that they are—but with this band, they’re really onto something.

The King of France consists of Steve Sallett on guitar and vocals, Tom Siler on keyboards, and Michael Azerrad on drums, and rarely has there been such a fortuitous, and entirely bizarre, meeting of musical minds. They sound like a new-wave Beatles, with hints of Lou Reed vocals and Tin Pan Alley whimsy. Sallett is a jittery frontman, with a voice of frayed nerves, swinging his guitar around, standing on his tiptoes, to squeeze out his shaky falsetto. Azerrad, somewhat famous in his own right as the author of Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991, looks something like Captain Haddock from the Tintin comics, and brings an astonishingly focused, tightly controlled sound to his carefully composed drum parts. If Azerrad is the band’s drill sergeant, Siler is an unkempt recruit who cannot be disciplined, and his entirely kooky, baroque-pop keyboard playing is the key to the band’s sound. What’s really amazing, though, is how perfectly these three blend together. As individuals, they might be described as adequate, but as a band, they are brilliant.

Having given up on a label, they’ve started their own, Egret Records, and have released an album called Salad Days, that is not properly a King of France project, as it was recorded before Azerrad joined the band. They’re currently finishing up a new album, also for release on Egret, that promises to be spectacular. For the most part, the band can be heard in rock clubs in downtown New York, like Pianos, Sin-É, and Tonic. They just finished a mini-tour opening for Guster, successfully confusing every frat-boy on the East coast.

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