“Dark times make for dark songs.” It is a thought and truth bearing statement which welcomed the release of the new album from FRENCHY AND THE PUNK and as proven by Zen Ghost, they can also seed the richest tenebrific captivation.
The seventh album from the New York based folk/postpunk/cabaret duo of singer, percussionist, and lyricist Samantha Stephenson and guitarist and composer Scott Helland (co-founder of OUTPATIENTS and DEEP WOUND with DINOSAUR JR.’s J Mascis and Lou Barlow) was written and recorded as all our lives were bound in the 2020/21 lockdowns of the pandemic. It was indeed the darkest of times causing thickly emotional reappraisals of life, futures and the world around us; themes shaping and seeding Zen Ghost with intimacy and drama. As the world continues to find further turbulence to embrace, it is a release as much an echo of the now but with its enlivening enterprise and inspiriting energies it also opens avenues for hope and bright possibilities.
The spark for FRENCHY AND THE PUNK came in in NYC in 1998 when French-born, UK and USA raised Stephenson spontaneously jumped on stage to accompany Helland during a solo guitar performance. From that moment their individual artistry instinctively connected and the pair were soon touring together going on to share stages with the likes of DEAD CAN DANCE’S PETER ULRICH, DRESDEN DOLLS’ BRIAN VIGLIONE, THOMAS DOLBY, DINOSAUR JR., THE WORLD INFERNO FRIENDSHIP SOCIETY, RASPUTINA, CRUXSHADOWS, and many more. A host of keenly acclaimed albums and releases have accompanied their journey with Zen Ghost already drawing the keenest plaudits too; reasons why swiftly open once the play button was pressed.
The album opens with Mon Souvenir and instantly was nagging ears and appetite through its acoustically toned guitar. Rhythms equally share an organic insistence which infected feet as the song’s swing took care of hips, all the while Stephenson’s voice shaping and honing greater tempting. The track is superb, its rock ‘n’ roll leaning fifties hued and the infectious shadowing gothic lit, it all under the skin with certain hunger.
The following Temple of Sleep initially wraps ears in ethereal keys, its atmospheric suggestion soon embraced by the track as it explores the anxieties, shadows and disturbing echoes within sleeplessness. A personal breath bounds the song, its presence haunting yet with lively hooks and a skittish gait the song is pure contagion with imagination stirring twists and turns.
If The World Doesn’t End First coaxes ears with off-centre melodies at first which soon spring another inescapably catchy stroll as it shares its crepuscular romance to “past fears and the knowledge that, in the end, the things that don’t matter pass and the one thing that does remains.” The wonderful Siouxsie Sioux quality to Stephenson’s voice again brings great drama to the beacon like richness of her delivery, yet she has an individuality equal to that of the sounds the duo weave around her lyrical theatre.
Intrigue and darkness bound next up Gear Geist. It is another track with that riveting nagging quality of the band’s sound, riffs and melodies aligning in manipulative and haunting prowess. It is a piece of music that urges the imagination to conjure with Stephenson’s harmonic cries siren-esque to ears and the suggestive almost other-worldly depths of the song a spark to thought.
As Church of Sound cast its folkishly picturesque tale with drama and caliginous beauty and Come in and Play entangled ears in its post punk devilry, we found ourselves only further enthralled by band and release alike. The second of the two is another moment of creative virulence with its rockabilly scented canter and emotive insinuation while Paradise Found merges dark pop and burlesque like theatre within its equally addictive body. From melodic hooks and cunning twists to its folk swing and involvement encouraging vocals, the song proved an inspiriting proposal.
The following pair of Blood and Oxygen were just as inescapably involving, the first with its own web of hooks and orchestration of collusion within a cosmopolitan landscape and its successor through its emotively immersive yet bullish balladry. The cabaret grandeur of the song only seemed to accentuate its intimacy and inner haunting as FRENCHY AND THE PUNK wove another aspect to the album’s provocative landscape.
I’ll See You Again completes the release, the track a gentle caress of sensitivity and romance as it reminds there is always someone there. It is a serenade of creative and vocal beauty bringing Zen Ghost to a seductively captivating and emotionally evocative close.
With our first listen Zen Ghost certainly had us fully attentive yet with every subsequent play has truly enthralled and revealed new depths of temptation; an album reflective of dark times but a light to the richest pleasure.
Zen Ghost is out now via EA Recordings; available digitally @ https://frenchyandthepunk.bandcamp.com/album/zen-ghost and other stores and on CD through https://frenchyandthepunk.com/
Upcoming Tour Dates:
Feb 4/5 Manchester, CT – Stupid Cupid Steampunk Festival
Feb 18/19 Gettsyburg, PA – MythiCon Festival
April 01 Galveston, TX – Galveston Steampunk Festival
April 8-9 Baltimore, MD – Between The Worlds
April 15/16 Chicago, IL – Chicago Steampunk Expo
April 22/23 Apex, NC – Festival of Legends
Pete RingMaster 18/01/2023
Copyright RingMaster Review
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