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French Kicks - One Time Bells

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Artist: French Kicks

Album: One Time Bells

Label: Star Time

Review date: Jun. 11, 2002

The new French Kicks album is great. If you will, please allow me a Richard Kinsella digression to explain why it should be the #1 record everywhere.

The major malfunction most indie rockers have with the Strokes is that the band didn’t deserve the steaming piles of hype that followed them during the early stages of their market saturation. No band divided my little microcosmic community of headphone dorks more in the past year, with insults being lobbed back and forth between warring factions. After the dust settled, and we actually listened to the record a few dozen times, it became clear to most of us that Is This It was good, and in time some of the band’s most violent critics quietly began humming along with the catchy bits. While I switched allegiances a few times over the past half-year, I’ve finally grown to like the record. I came to terms with it because, to paraphrase the sentiment I’ve heard over and over: “I’d rather have the kids listening to this than most of the shit that’s out there, and if liking the Strokes opens them up to good music, so be it.” Still, I can’t help but feel cheated sometimes when I listen to Spoon, Guided by Voices, Pinback, Grandaddy, or other pop genius bands, especially those that have major-label cash behind them. Why wasn’t “Chasing Heather Crazy” on every radio station last summer? There are scores of bands that deserve to be huge, and to see the Strokes come out and take the world by storm with the sound we’d all had in our heads since the Velvets in the late 60s was flabbergasting.

Now to my point. One Time Bells, the first full-length from the Brooklyn band French Kicks, is a great rock record, and one that deserves every bit of attention that comes its way. French Kicks are a four-piece that have been around since 1998, releasing an eponymous ep on My Pal God records in 1999 and an ep entitled Young Lawyer on StarTime in 2001. The new record is a distillation of everything that was good and unique in their sound—it is playful, catchy, woozy and rocking. The opener, “Wrong Side” is a wonderful introduction to the album, full of stuttering guitar vamps, honeyed vocal harmonies, galloping basslines, dissonant passages and leisurely melodies. The strength of French Kicks is their ability to meld disparate rhythms and sounds into a cohesive whole. The band makes particularly good use of syncopation, and they have easily created one of the most rhythmically interesting pop records I’ve heard in a while. I regularly find myself nodding my head off the beat.

French Kicks build songs on the skeletal frames of the beat, finding a place to cram every instrument so that somehow, everything has it’s own space in-between the beats. This ability is on display at the beginning of “Crying Just for Show,” when somehow they pile five different rhythms on until it comes together beautifully, artfully and passionately. The interplay between instruments is often fascinating, as on the low and high piano on the verse of “Down Now.” The beguiling falsetto-vocal harmonies and choppy guitar lines compliment the loping bassline of “Close to Modern” wonderfully. Perfect pop moments unfold a number of times on the album, from the brilliance of the rock coda for “1985” to the frisky jaunt of “Right in Time.”

In a better world, One Time Bells would be the music of choice for pop smart teenagers, playing from every set of speakers this summer. The kids would lip synch to all the songs, knowing the words by heart. French Kicks should be huge. However, such a world doesn’t exist, and One Time Bells will instead be sought out by the underground pop connoisseurs, leaving the other bands to pose for the magazine covers and move units. We all know that sort of stuff has nothing to do with the quality of the music. Still, wouldn’t it be nice for great pop music to have its heyday again? Until that world comes, French Kicks have created a timeless record, and my humble suggestion would be for you to add One Time Bells to your already impeccable record collection.

By Andy Cockle

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