Tuesday, October 06, 2009

French Miami Review

This is the self-titled debut album by San Francisco trio French Miami. The band combines synthesizers and angular guitar riffs, resulting in sound that is early-80s post punk meets 90s math rock. Opening track "God Damn Best" is the most complete realization of their sound. Jagged guitar lines mix with Roland Curtis's synthesized bass notes, Chris Crawford's propulsive drumming, and Jason Heislelmann's impassioned yet slightly monotone singing. As with most of their songs, "God Damn Best" focuses on patterns and repetition, cycling the same lyrics and notes over and over again. It's hypnotizing and energizing, the kind of song that makes you want to flail around. It's no wonder that their live shows are said to be amazing.

Crawford is the linchpin of the band. His incessant drumming keeps the songs moving, and there is an abandon to his beat that counters the sterile precision of the music and vocals. His drums have a heavy, analog sound, and you can feel every cymbal crash and hear the rattle of the kit with each beat of the kick drum. This lends an organic feel to music that might otherwise feel too robotic. Even when they use a drum machine, like on "S.F.O.," the drums still add an additional kick.

They don't quite hit the high-water mark set by "God Damn Best" on the rest of the album, but they do come close. "Multi-Caliber Rifles" is a four-minute exercise that starts out with a simple guitar riff and keeps adding layers on top of it. "Science Fiction" pits a manic guitar line against a synth wash as Heislemann sings "And then we'll make it out cuz I'm not jealous anymore." His vocals sound a little like Ian Curtis, and the overall sound of the records recalls the desolate feel of Martin Hannett's production on Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures.

The one drawback to French Miami's sound is that all of the repetition gets, well, repetitive. They have a tendency to work the same riff and lyric over and over again, and it doesn't always work. The more straightforward songwriting on "S.F.O." is a good sign that French Miami are expanding their musical range. Even with some missteps, this album remains one of the more invigorating and exciting debuts I've heard in a while. It's great to hear a band referencing 80s post-punk without the jokey irony or hipsterism, and I'm looking forward to seeing what French Miami does next.

Originally posted on Blogcritics.org

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