FRENCHY AND THE PUNK – Cities In Dust / Monsters

When it comes to alternative musicians, there are probably dozens the average person would name before they got to Scott Helland. His name isn’t the most famous, but his contribution to the US alternative underground is massive, as is his discography. He first found relative fame as a member of hardcore band Deep Wound (alongside Dinosaur Jr men Lou Barlow and Joseph Mascis); he’s also been a member of Outpatients, released several solo albums, worked with Boom Boom Shake, Voltaire and Mark Malcahy and, somewhere along the way, launched a further side hustle as Guitarmy of One where he plays garage punk/surf instrumentals. Simply put, he seems to be one of those guys who’s always there, lurking in the shadows, but quietly working.

Another of Helland’s many projects, Frenchy and The Punk released their ‘Happy Madness’ album in 2010 and put out new material on a yearly basis until 2014, before taking a hiatus, then reconvening in 2019. Their albums are a great blend of choppy folk punk, busy acoustic sounds with a slightly gothic twist, with occasional nods to dark, 50s inspired guitar lines.

This digital release might only share two songs, but in many ways, it’s great for fans and new listeners alike, since it showcases the duo’s talents in a very accessible way. The self penned ‘Monsters’ (originally featured on their 2019 album ‘Hooray Beret’) shares something very sharp from the F&P catalogue when Helland adds a vaguely surf-ish melody to a new wave-ish punch, ending up with a melody and rhythm that sounds strangely like a Frenchy and The Punk twist on an old Duane Eddy track. A floaty, moody vocal lends an important balance by sharing something with a more modern feel, and as is the case with the duo’s best tunes, Samantha Stephenson has a real presence that accentuates a strong – and brilliant – goth pop quality throughout. The track is more about a spiky mood and having the listener drawn in by a superb voice than any sing-along hook, but it’s a near perfect example of the duo’s combination of directness and melody.

That’s a great track, but if anything pulls new fans in the direction of Frenchy and The Punk, it’s this release’s leading number – a stunning cover of the Siouxsie & The Banshees classic ‘Cities In Dust’. A song familiar to thousands, Frenchy & The Punk take the 80s hit by the collar, and strip it down to its bare essentials – and it sounds superb. Although nothing has been done to change the song’s main melody, there’s a real spark here, and that’s enough of a reminder of how great a melodic writing team Siouxsie, Budgie and Steve Severin made, especially once they’d moved away from their early post-punk sounds. In this arrangement, Helland’s guitar work conveys an impressively bright tone throughout, and by blending that with occasional mandolin, bell noises and a hard edged drum sound, it gives the track a lot of muscle despite the semi “unplugged” stance. It’s Stephenson who’s the real star here, though, and she turns in a truly staggering Siouxsie inspired vocal throughout. A pitch perfect Stars In Their Eyes moment, regardless of whether she’s approaching the dark tones of the verse, or reaching for the high, warbled chorus hook, it’s a genuinely outstanding performance.

It doesn’t matter how many times you spin this digital double whammy, it’s great from the off, and continues to flaunt its greatness thereafter. It also never stops amazing the listener as to how much Samantha actually sounds like Siouxsie Sioux; on ‘Cities In Dust’ her voice is almost the perfect tribute, and even on ‘Monsters’, the vocalist conveys a love for the legendary performer that can be pleasingly obvious. Whether you’re already familiar with Frenchy and The Punk or experiencing them for the first time, this is a download that’s definitely worth grabbing.

November 2023