French Kicks

Sneaking onto the scene with their instruments like the children in The School of Rock with a dreamy mix of class and expansive romance, the French Kicks are not of this cynical rock world. But while their 2002 debut, the gorgeous, semioverlooked One Time Bells, gushed freely with cherished tears inspired by Sixteen Candles-era melodies, The Trial of the Century holds back, acknowledging the wisdom of experience gained from the bittersweetness of yesteryear's virginity.

Whether a band's growth should mirror life's mundane progress is a question that was pondered long before the formation of this D.C. quartet. But one tends to whorishly prefer the high-speed sugar rushes from the first time around over Nick Stumpf's expertly white-soul falsetto and the Kicks' laudable synth handling of Eighties frailty (not excess) on this set. So The Trial of the Century is a borderline sophomore slump, and its songs' heart lines fall into a slow-dance blur by track four or five or ten, which may not be enough to keep you around for the punchy closer, "Better Time." Then again, the zone-out is half the ride.

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Hunter Stephenson