By Andre Perry | 30 October 2008
At their best, New York’s French Kicks come on in waves: chiming guitars, subtle but striking keyboards, ever-creative drum patterns, and dreamy layers of vocals. On their last two albums in particular they’ve really crafted records for listeners who, perhaps unexpectedly given the band’s mod brand and slick outfits, want to absolutely get lost in sound—not in aggressive noise-rock constructs but within inviting melodies and the tender folds of interlocking instrumental flourish. So what’s new about Swimming? Is it more of the same, honed, mature? Well, it’s not as powerful as the Kick’s criminally underappreciated Two Thousand (2006), but it’s still pretty remarkable. “Abandon” couldn’t be a better opener, beginning with handclaps and a memory-stabbing guitar riff then riding upon a torrent of snares, toms, and stacks of vocal harmonies. When the bass kicks in there’s no going back: “Abandon” is entirely enveloping, its dense swell paired with striking hooks. It’s also the best song on Swimming, which makes the rest of the record a bit of a comedown.
All in all, though, it’s an endearing sort of comedown. The other tracks on Swimming are tight, each one of them a little experiment unto itself in arrangement and texture. At least for this band; I once compared them to Brian Eno in reference to their attention to detail and the assessment holds up if only because they’re couched within pop expectations that champion brassier, broader sound, wide expanses and movement. Some songs certainly turn out better than others, like the beachcombing “Carried Away” and the slow-building “Love in the Ruins,” but nothing really fails; it’s all thoughtful and of sonic interest to both the social listener and the audiophile with headphones, sitting in a dark room, alone, zoning out to music. Swimming seems more subdued than its predecessor, but it’s not uncomfortable or compromised, just sleepier and content, less angry with all of the critics who have been talking unnecessary shit for years.
So, no, this isn’t groundbreaking sound art, just really good dream-pop, as pleasant as this music can get without being—don’t deny the thought you indelibly harbored—cloying; that’s a space that we need bands to fill. I don’t mean to slight this band when I say that they are not groundbreaking. Instead, I mean to slight our ridiculous expectations of bands like French Kicks that almost need to preemptively qualify their decidedly straight-laced, middle-of-the-road pop sparkle before one note is ever played. They just sound good, as they have for a long time, so instead let’s praise the band for making another indie-pop treasure to wrap around our ears as we wind down a chilly fall of drinking and jigsaw romances. In a couple months it will be snowing outside and you’ll have a glass of Makers in your hand, the tatters of your latest relationship strewn about the floor, and Swimming—just like those Headlights and Instruments albums—will make a damn good soundtrack to your messy seasonal cycle.