October 05, 2004

Frenchmen "Sorry We Ruined Your Party"

With their debut, Sorry We Ruined Your Party, Californian quartet the Frenchmen have made a quintessential “Recommended If You Like” album that rigidly adheres to a “crash-pop” template that hasn’t been substantially expounded on since Henry’s Dress broke up eight years ago. They write short, tuneful and terminally lovelorn ditties about a wide variety of mundane subjects: unrequited crushes, seasonal changes, flaky friends, parties, wanderlust, etc. They play them way faster than necessary, and with an abundance of jangle, distortion and feedback, thus connecting the dots between the Who and the Wedding Present. Off-key vocal duties are split evenly between the male and female guitarist; it must be said, though, that the girl’s voice is far stronger than the guy’s. There’s at least one cover of a song by another indie-pop band so obscure that it might as well be an original composition (the Flatmates’ “Tell Me Why”). In short, this is the third album that Henry’s Dress never made, or the album that HD alumnus Amy Linton’s current band the Aislers’ Set would’ve made if they hadn’t decided to go all “Belle-and-Sebastian-dub-stylee” on us. Aislers’ Set member Wyatt Cusick recorded one of the songs, which only cements my comparison.

The Frenchmen get props for both their songwriting skills and their musicianship. Every song’s a winner, crammed to the gills with good melodies (you can even hum the bass lines!) and unfathomable drum fills. However, Sorry is peculiar in that as the record progresses, the writing gets stronger and the singing gets weaker. By the time you get to the 10th song “Like the Weather,” you might not notice the seamless time changes or the dueling sets of lyrics because you’ll be disgusted with the vocals. Even if you have as high of a tolerance for “crash-pop” as I do, I can’t guarantee that you’ll consider the pitch-imperfect singing endearing instead of annoying. If Amy and Leon invest in a vocal coach (or, God forbid, an auto-tuner) before the next time they set foot in a studio, their sophomore album should be a no-strings-attached classic. Sorry We Ruined Your Party, on the other hand, can only be cautiously recommended as an above-par genre exercise.

--Sean Padilla

Label Website: http://www.clairecords.com

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