You Can Almost Taste the Sexual Tension in the French Kicks' Taut Sound


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Back in the late 70s there was a Scots band called the Scars who, consumed by anger and sexual frustration (presumably) and a fierce inner belief, released a series of spunky, angular, buzzsaw punk singles with grating riffs that cut straight inside. Perfect in their own bile, the image was shattered once contact with the outside world was made and the former outsiders started buying copies of The Face and believing that image is important. (It is, but never in the way musicians reckon.) The Scars made an album wherein they ruined all the brittle aggression, swamping it with New Romantic-style production?the sort of thing that Americans of a certain age unaccountably still refuse to be embarrassed by?and never recovered from their singer's stint as Nico's "toy boy."


Flash-forward 20 years: I despise any band with an * in their name.


Flash-forward to this morning, when I listened to nine songs by a young, spunky group from New York with song titles like "Young Lawyer" and "The 88," who sound like Blur always had in their own dreams (and not in anyone else's), who sound so straight and edgy that one hair out of place would cause them to crack irretrievably, whose album is mod in a way that mod never was, whose guitar schizophrenically flips between speaker and speaker, or perhaps that's my head. I know little about this band, except that they sound like I hope the Strokes sound when I finally hear them and that Alan McGee's post-Creation Poptones label has picked up on their six-track mini-album and released it to an uncaring British public with three tracks added, and that I can almost taste the blood of sexual tension within their taut, compressed sound. I'm sure the boys are all cute, too: it's difficult to make music this assured without having a safety net beneath you.


There's an element that is very Jane Birkin in French Kicks' sharply angled vocals, or perhaps I'm free associating on their name too strongly: it's the kitten punk of their brief harmonies, the way "The 88" insists on sounding like a Washington, DC, riot boy band with all the pretensions of cute shorn away, the static Clash ("London Calling") guitars on "Call Our Hands" behind a vocal that sneers in the way Costello once sneered, Nick Stumpf's propulsive, precise drumming everywhere. Not a note is wasted, even if the tastefully named "White" does meander along in a postcoital comedown haze better suited to French Kicks' more self-indulgent Chicago post-rock brethren. Even if the music sometimes veers into quirky territory, the way Talking Heads rapidly degenerated into a bad art-rock parody, there's enough staccato energy and sneering distaste for that not to matter. For now.


I can only hope the French Kicks never pick up an English fashion magazine.


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