French Kicks' Swimming

Hypnotic melodrama, with a little help from their friends

For a former garage band, French Kicks have gone remarkably ethereal on their new offering, and it suits them: The New York quartet seems poised for a breakthrough with this hypnotic, heartbreaking disc. From Swimming's opening moments, you know something new is up. Over guitar licks recalling R.E.M.'s "Finest Worksong," drums evocative of U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday," and harmonies straight from the Beatles' "Rain," "Abandon" spins a gorgeous tune of loss and anomie: "I'm wishing you well/From so far behind/The things you could tell/If you could read this broken mind," sings frontman Nick Stumpf, establishing the record's beautifully bereft tone. Nearly every song has that Trojan Horse seduction: "New Man" starts with droning guitars, like a lost Joy Division track, but his punkish Paul McCartney voice is light years away from Ian Curtis's hopeless baritone; Stumpf can achieve melancholy without stooping to pill-swallowing melodrama. With catchy choruses (hear "Why, tell me why?/I don't know" once and it won't go away), assured self-production, and lyrics that lean on nobody's pen, it won't be long before people start comparing other bands to French Kicks, instead of the other way around.

 
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