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Music Review: French Kicks – Swimming

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New York indie groups are a dime a dozen. There, I said it. Fact of the matter is, something’s in the water over there. In fact, musicians in New York City are drinking so much of it, that most bands coming out of the garages and studios of The Big Apple are starting to sound alike.

Variations of The Strokes, these groups come with no frills attached and are dedicated to rocking out, making the scene, and all of that other drivel. Skinny jeans, skinny ties, and skinny women all come back to the forefront and garage rock ventures out of the garage and on to your neighbour’s kid’s iPod. Such is life.

Enter French Kicks. This quartet isn’t naturally from Noo Yawk, but they have sipped the water and congregated around the clubs and alleyways to set their sound firmly in the state of mind of garage rock, post-punk, and, according to some goof writing the Wikipedia article, “modded pop.” Okay, now people are just making shit up.

French Kicks got on the board with a flourish, adding three heralded albums to their catalogue and receiving loads of critical approval along the way. 2002’s One Time Bells, 2004’s The Trial of the Century, and 2006’s Two Thousand all set the quartet’s legacy spinning. With 2008’s Swimming, the band decided to take the reins of the recording process, and laid out the tracks themselves for the first time. The result is, according to singer and multi-instrumentalist Nick Stumpf, “that it sounds completely like us.”

That’s a damn good thing.

Swimming finds French Kicks making no compromises. For Stumpf, Josh Wise, and Lawrence Stumpf, the ideal way to create their new album was to give it a sort of “live” feel. They used first and second takes along with serious doses of ad-libbing to open up the creative process and allow for a naturally liberated flood of music.

This free approach is immediately identifiable, as the glad riffs of songs like “Carried Away” and the clean melodies of the lead single “Abandon” all demonstrate the band’s readiness to take risks. The unrefined sound works well and the songs come across as spur-of-the-moment expressions rather than organized statements.

The no bullshit approach sets songs like “Said So What” on a different plane than most of their indie rock counterparts, as the tune’s tender evolution sounds just as at home in your best friend’s basement, as it does in a jam-packed concert hall. Its addictive melody is hummable and jolly. Imagine that.

Other songs showcase the band's impeccable melodic layering, like the broad and see-through sounds of “Atlanta,” one of the album’s trickier tracks. The use of sinuous guitar and lilting vocals gives the song an eerie yet hospitable feature.

Swimming is an unprocessed album that finds French Kicks playing in their own neighborhood for perhaps the first time in their career. Their sound, while categorically very New York, belongs just about anywhere. Packed with addictive pop melodies and just a touch of the “fancy stuff,” this is vital indie rock for today’s hipsters and marks a rewarding record for just about everybody else.

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About Jordan Richardson