It’s hard to characterize the French Kicks. The keyboard-driven Brooklyn quartet could be classified as many things–poppy, playful, casually cool–and on their new album,Trial of the Century, they shift from Devo-esque guitar hooks to syncopated swagger to Pet Sounds harmonizing in a matter of minutes. At times nostalgic (“Trial of the Century”), at times almost bursting with eagerness (“One More Time”), the main focus, lyrically speaking, seems to be a gut-wrenching indecisiveness.
But while the Kicks tinker with many moods (and genres) on their sophomore album, they do not suffer from a lack of talent. Stumpf commands both swooning lamentation and coy flirtation in hissinging, bassist (and Nick’s brother) Lawrence Stumpf commandeers support lines of rapid strumming, and guitarists/keyboardists Matt Stinchcomb and Wise add oscillating minor-key flourishes. On “You Could Not Decide,”guitarist Josh Wise takes over vocal duties from lead singer Nick Stumpf, singing about old doubts that surface in a recently rekindled romance. Crooning over keyboards that sound alternately like bubbly guitars, disco hooks, and maritime bells, Wise ambiguously describes his lover as “Not any worse than you were before,” but the elation of the affair is tempered by a lingering resentment. While punctuated finger-snapping and snare-slapping open the jazzy “Oh Fine,” when Stumpf’s blandly repeats, “We’ll be fine,” a sense of falseness and self-doubt prevails. Though the Kicks may suffer from a permanent case of emotional equivocation, they should certainly stick to what they’re doing on the musical end of the spectrum.