ew York’s bastard children don’t make noise. They’d rather speak lightly about old friends and passing conversation instead of rambling on about the subway being a porno or the rat they found in some dilapidated apartment. Their words have no jagged consonants, no flashy accents, and nestle themselves slowly and easily in your head. See, a lot of people come to Yonkers for all things iconic—all the things advertised on postcards and movies—but that means they expect everything in the city to pop and sizzle. That means New York must be extravagant. It’s the city’s orphans—those neglected whispers—that make the city most human.
The French Kicks use fine brushes to paint, but because their peers are better known for broad, outlandish strokes—bedhead and one-night stands, pictures of Leif Erikson and Stella—their work has often been considered boringly consistent. There are no revolutions from album to album and no drama, both anomalous features for a band from the big city. We forget that One Time Bells came out when The Strokes had attained a critical apotheosis and that the Kicks themselves were The Walkmen’s label mates. We forget these things because the Kicks were quickly considered New York dross for not being as punchy or brazen as their peers, especially after the more studio-driven The Trial of the Century. To fully appreciate the band you need to travel a bit outside of the city.
Each French Kicks album is a variation on a theme, and Two Thousand is the best yet. The two solitary guitar notes that open the record are resonant of the intro to One Time Bells’ “1985.” But soon after, the bass drum pushes outward and Nick Stumpf emerges with a falsetto sloppier than the one sported on the New Order-influenced Trial of the Century. It isn’t precisely a fusion of their last two albums, even if ingredients from both persist. Sure, they veer harder towards the post-punk aesthetic of their debut, but it’s more elegant and better arranged.
The album’s centerpiece, “Knee High,” effortlessly builds to its peak rather than straining for a glorified chorus. The keyboards gently lift Stumpf’s vocals while the guitars act as a soft counter to the crescendo. “Keep It Amazed” works similarly, but the emphasis is on the drums and bass, both of which surround the song during the refrains before almost dropping out entirely for the conclusion. Here they manage to sound fuller but not heavier, as though they compacted their feather-like vocals and instrumentals. They may inch close to an iconic New York post-punk (“Hey/Wait”) or garage sound (“Cloche”), but they’re always keenly aware of it and, intelligently, only bring you to the brink.
It’s hard to imagine The French Kicks making a great album, given their limited changes so far. That doesn’t change the fact that Two Thousand is a very good one. It’ll have a hell of a time sticking out among its ilk, sure. But every once in a while we unknowingly pine for the Kicks’ brand. It happens when you walk into any big city and get tired of finding only neon luster or fast fashion; when you’ll simply want to speak to an unvarnished denizen rather than an icon. For that you’ll have to look to the city’s periphery, a place with which the French Kicks are amply familiar and comfortable.
Reviewed by: Ayo Jegede
Reviewed on: 2006-07-18