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French Kicks | One Time Bells (Startime International)
Hotly-tipped in some quarters, though I'm not sure if that buzz originated before, or because of, the 'Young Lawyer' EP released here last year on Poptones The band certainly look cool enough and with the fickle music business feeding frenzy that's been focussed on post-Strokes New York of late, have most likely benefited from 'right place right time' syndrome even though the two bands have little in common musically. 'One Time Bells' is rather a curious work in some respects, though, as the band barely even 'sound' American at all. Despite some critics' claims to the contrary I find it hard to detect much of Big Star, Ben Folds Five or Fugazi in French Kicks' sound. Producer Gary Talenfeld has elected for a fairly stripped-down sound for the album, paring it down to an almost claustrophobic degree, tightly focussed on the rhythm. Perhaps also being the band's drummer enabled lead vocalist Nick Stumpf to exert more influence on the band's sound than drummers might usually expect. In terms of influence, it's bands like Gang Of Four and late '80s-period Wire in particular that most spring to mind, the songs often utilising tight, punchy rhythmic patterns, hints of discordance, yet mostly managing to retain a detectable melody. I don't think the band quite have the balance right yet for it all to succeed. Trying Whining with its gently insistent guitar adornment, the muted metronomic frenzy of When You Heard You and Crying Just For Show, the album's best track - melody, rhythm and dissonance in unison - being the album's highlights, but both the album's title track and 1985 are ill-defined and have little discernible direction in comparison. 'One Time Bells' is flawed, occasionally fascinating and better than I initially thought but overall is lacking the kicks I had been led to expect.

Geraint Jones
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002