There’s an inherent ingenuity about the French Kicks’ 2002 breakthrough One Time Bells, a trait that shone brightly amidst the slew of bands participating in the perceived next wave of new millennium rock and roll. With Bells, a band that had leaned heavily on its edgier roots and exuded post-punk paradigms emerged with a carefully crafted and somewhat minimal delight. Instead of wearing influences like so many brightly colored badges on a denim jacket, the French Kicks chopped them up, reduced them to raw, essential morsels, and reconfigured them into something with less instant appeal but loads of longevity, a quality that didn’t go unnoticed by countless reviewers:
Time Out New York: “After an evening with the French Kicks’ intelligent and melodic style of seduction, you might not want to hear a plain rock song ever again.”
Maxim: “Perfect pop restraint — 4.5 stars”
Mojo: “A stellar leap…a cleaner sound and less hurried approach reaps rewards here — 4 stars (Underground Album of the Month).”
Magnet: “What makes the French Kicks stand out is their talent for effortlessly drawing you in with each listen.”
With The Trial of the Century, out May 18th on StarTime International and produced by Doug Boehm (The Vines, Saves the Day, Guided By Voices), the French Kicks reduce and concentrate that formula into an even more potent concoction, distilling elements of guitar rock, synth pop, and Motown soul along with the earnest and endearing vocals of Nick Stumpf. The Trial of the Century is a challenging record, one that begs listeners to shake off the cobwebs of garage rock hysteria and wrap their noggins around some truly unique and abstract approaches to the four-minute ditty.
Opening with sweeping, delicate waves of synths, pulsing rhythms, and a truly unguarded, “One More Time” explores frantic longing: “A little heat and I lost some more sleep.” “Don’t Thank Me” could easily storm off into a guitar romp, but the band shows restraint, letting driving rhythms and an addictive hook stand on their own, while keyboards are used almost like a third voice in harmony. “Oh Fine” builds upon a simple, street-corner doo-wop vibe with hand claps and a finger-snap drumbeat underpinning the repeated assurance, “You’ll be fine,” while a throbbing bassline holds the pieces in place. Elsewhere, chiming guitar riffs offer crystalline support to a plea for rekindling old flames on “You Could Not Decide,” while album closer “Better Time” experiments with a drum loop and dissonant piano to create a chilling and sparse canvas for yet another fragile falsetto lyric remembering “the sign of a better time.”
While many of their peers from the recent rock resurgence clutch tightly to whatever sound made them famous, the French Kicks use evolution as a solution on The Trial of the Century, opting for uncharted realms over regurgitation.
Booked for a Wednesday night residency throughout the month of February at NYC’s Mercury Lounge, the French Kicks debuted new material from The Trial of the Century for adoring packed houses, and also showed off a new stage arrangement that featured Nick Stumpf emerging from behind the drum kit as a full-on frontman. Lucky attendees got a taste of what crowds can expect throughout the spring as the Kicks head out across the country with the Walkmen, a jaunt that includes two performances at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 18 and 19. For more tour dates, visit the tour page.
Nick Stumpf—lead vocals, drums, keyboards