King of France – Notion

“The band is named after the French stereotype that crazy people tend to think they’re the king of France. It’s precisely those delusions of grandeur that the band experiences when they play their music. With any luck, other people will feel the same way.”

Taken from the band’s website, this summarizes the band’s aspirations. In an effort to reach their goals of winning over their audience, the band seems to be very cautious about what it releases, keeping things honed down to the essential. “Notion” is one of only two songs you will find by the trio online. It seems though that once everything is “just so,” the band is able to let go of their worries and really give their all in terms of performance. The songs seem meticulously crafted, but the precision construction is so simple that it gives ample space for the band to put a lot of feeling into what they are doing. This comes across most immediately in the vocals of Steve Salett, whose delivery seems so earnest and completely immersed in the material that you’ve gotta wonder how his arms still remember to strum that guitar. And even though the band never misses a note or a beat, the tunes never come across as being over-rehearsed.

“Notion” highlights King of France’s ability to create a harmony among the influences they borrow from, creating effective juxtapositions in mood and style. The opening bars have a restrained warmth about them, largely owing to the lap-steel (or an impression of one by the keyboard?). Salett’s voice is straight and nearly monotone – bringing to mind Leonard Cohen – but then, all of a sudden we reach something of a chorus and the keyboard opens up into swinging triplets, the guitar begins to swagger, and the percussion comes in with a concise staccato backbeat. The vocals go up an octave and backing voices come in to create an augmenting harmony, creating a fantastic contrast in color to the lead vox. This surprising animation supplants Cohen with Cale, and then goes on into the too-soon final bars to combine the two styles into a sort of Bowie-from-New-York hybrid. Then suddenly the song is over, and you are sitting there feeling cheated and yet elated by their brevity.

Fuck the Strokes as the “forbearers of the New York rock revival,” is King of France just lying low to avoid the press? While eschewing the raw sounds of “Sister Ray” for the autumnal winds of “Sisters of Mercy,” King of France’s sparseness belies a quiet fire that razes your preconceptions as soon as it is unleashed. Quit reading this and go start your download.