The New York music scene was pronounced dead over a year ago, swiftly carted off to the graveyard, where it was joined by Detroit, Seattle (yes, again), Sweden, and a whole slew of other one-time towns. But this might just be a case of being buried alive; New York is not only still breathing, it’s kicking as well. Look no further than Fever to Tell, Echoes, Room on Fire and Bow and Arrows, all released after New York’s expiration date came and went, to see that good music is still seeping out of the sidewalks.
The Trial of the Century, the StarTime-released second album from French Kicks, is in a precarious position. See, brothers got smacked with the New York-scene label, prompting their debut, 2002’s One Time Bells, to become a bigger hit than it ever should have been. The album isn’t horrible, but it got shoved in the buzz bin and then tossed into the hype bin, and it just never really lived up to expectations.
But like their New York brethren, French Kicks prove they are more than just one-hit wonders. The Trial of the Century pulls a Teddy Roosevelt by speaking softly and carrying a big stick; the tracks are unassuming, but the blissful melodies come crashing down. The keyboards on “Yes I Guess” are heavenly, Nick Stumpf’s falsetto on “Oh Fine” is charming, and the romantic longing on “Only So Long” reveals the depths of the French Kicks.
The album continues the minimalist aesthetic of One Time Bells, it fine tunes the equation, with an added urgency propelling each song forward. “The Trial of the Century” begins with, in typical French Kicks style, a single keyboard note. But unlike their previous songs, this track has a purpose, and it picks up speed as it heads toward its final destination. The over-popular ’80s sound is inescapable on the album, but it’s balanced out by the doo-wop of “Oh Fine” and the good ol’ indie rock of “The Falls.”
The album’s weaknesses, like its strengths, are its melodies; some are incredibly catchy, others are utterly forgettable, even if they can be quite pleasing. Don’t look to this as an irredeemable error; the album has more than enough catchy tunes. What’s most appealing about The Trial of the Century, though, is that you never feel overcome by a too-cool attitude or get the sense that the band is too big for its own good. New York has had its mistakes, but French Kicks isn’t one of them.