Posted by: Ryan Allen on June 25, 2008 at 2:00 pm

French Kicks, Swimming (Vagrant Records, 2008)

Listen: “Over The World”

There was a time when French Kicks were on the forefront of something massive, bubbling up from New York’s post-punk and pop underbelly in 1999 and 2000. Along with other spiky bands in tight trousers, the kind of slashing pop-informed jams that littered early French Kicks releases — like 2000’s Young Lawyer EP and 2002’s One Time Bells — signaled a band that was poised for big, big things. But there’s always been something mysterious working against French Kicks, always knocking them back just as the ball starts rolling. Maybe it’s the whole singing drummer thing (previously manned by the very tall Nick Stumpf — current trapsman Aaron Thurston joined in 2004, and Stumpf moved to keys and vocals) that people found hard to get over. Maybe it was the lineup changes that put some bumps in the road (founding guitarist Matt Stinchcomb left after 2004’s Trial of the Century). Perhaps it was their confusing addition to the Vagrant Records roster, home of, like, Dashboard and shit. Or is it just that the Walkmen — a band in which French Kick’s are often compared — are just better? Either way, French Kicks don’t seem to care, as they continue to release records on a pretty consistent basis, hellbent on following a softer pop muse that has seen them inching further and further away from the angular jabs of their past. Swimming might be the wrong title for the band’s fourth full length; Treading seems a bit more appropriate. Dazed and lethargic, French Kicks seem alright with floating in the calmest of waters, as the relaxed nature of songs like “Said So What” and “All Our Weekends” finds them drifting by with nary a ripple. The jumpy drums on “Abandon” and “The Way You Arrive” may cause slight waves, but it’s just not enough to rock the boat. We still want to root for French Kicks, and on songs like the bouncy and spacious “Over the World” or the 50s-rock inspired “With the Fishes,” it seems worth the effort; but that feeling simply gets drowned out by the the album’s ho-hum, repetitive nature. It’s too bad, as we reluctantly watch another potentially good record sink straight to the bottom. — Ryan Allen

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