Straightforward indie-rockers French Kicks take a step forward
with their new album, Trial of the Century, but they still
haven’t found their own distinct sound.

Music Reviews
Turn left at Greenland. (Courtesy of Star Time)

The French Kicks’ strength on their latest release is
composition — the treatment and combination of individual
musical lines. On tracks like “Oh Fine,” sinewy lead
singer Nick Stumpf’s voice is isolated against a rhythmic
keyboard/guitar ostinato, the drumming maintains momentum with easy
precision, and the constant, rapid subdivision makes the music
flow. “One More Time” begins Trial of the Century with
soaring vocals from Stumpf. Keyboards that sound like something out
of “It’s Dance-Punk, Charlie Brown” twinkle
within the framework laid by the percussion and vocals. This is
high-energy stuff, and the Kicks have been pretty meticulous on
their second release.

But make no mistake: this is fun music. Just about any track
from Trial of the Century would fit well on the soundtrack
to “The Breakfast Club” with songs like Simple
Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”
–– there’s something about the youthful urgency
of repeated eighth notes combined with sustained melodic lines that
just screams “coming-of-age.” But each song progresses
in a fairly linear fashion; there’s not much detail or
narrative expressed in the lyrics and the music doesn’t
support the lyrics well within individual tracks. The French Kicks
sound like they’re waiting for another musician to show up,
for a little sparkle in the distance to give them a place to
go.

That’s the problem: Trial of the Century sounds
more like a stepping stone than a destination. While it’s
clear that the band have nailed down their ideas and honed their
chops since 2002’s One Time Bells, they haven’t
fully developed their own sound yet. Songwriting and execution are
both solid, but so far, the Kicks lack that numinous quality in
their sound that immediately lets listeners know they’re not
just another post-punk four-piece. Keep an eye out for the French
Kicks’ next record — hopefully they’ll have found
what they seem to be searching for on Trial of the
Century
.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

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