Louis XIV - Illegal Tender (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Louis XIV

Illegal Tender (2005)

Pineapple / Atlantic

Louis XIV, par la grâce de Dieu roi de France et de Navarre...

There's something remarkably pompous about naming a band after the Sun King, as his name conveys a sense of splendor and decadence that one assumes would seem rather soulless and vapid in a band. San Diego's Louis XIV is anything but, and their new EP Illegal Tender sets a high bar for their impending full length.

With gigs supporting the Killers under their belt and an impending tour with Hot Hot Heat it's easy to jump to the conclusion that Louis XIV falls into the same batch of new wave revivalists. However that's not accurate at all as Louis XIV draw from a far deeper-rooted set of influences, everything from Voidoids-style NYC punk to British guitar pop (with a bit of glam swagger for good measure). Jason Hill still shows shades of his past fronting Convoy, but the Stones / Beach Boys influences that band so readily flaunted are far less apparent here. This EP is in fact Louis XIV's third and follows up a self-released full-length, but it's their first under a new arrangement with Atlantic. With the major label push and their already hipster-friendly tour partners, prepare for an onslaught of hype in the coming months.

So before NME throws its sensationalist press machine into overdrive and you settle into that inevitable pit of resulting apathy, there's plenty to get excited about with Illegal Tender. The song "Louis XIV" stomps and swaggers with an oversexual Stooges / Velvet Underground feel. Hill's obviously having too much fun to keep up his Lou Reed monotone up for long, and the band's songwriting quickly departs from expected garage-rock territory with the single "Finding Out True Love Is Blind." The song makes every effort to come off as offensive and overconfident, only to be curiously broken up by Lindsey Troy's guest vocals. It has the effect of turning what's otherwise a dumb song about sex into something a bit more clever and self-aware. The title track is wonderfully bizarre. It's a march done entirely in quirky spoken vocals that calls to mind the familiar "There is a man..." rhyme from Citizen Kane (which also appeared verbatim in the White Stripes song "The Union Forever"). Even more striking is the rhythm of the song, which is eerily similar to the classic novelty "They're Coming To Take Me Away (ha ha)" by (and this is too perfect to be anything but deliberate) the late 60's band Napoleon XIV. The following "Marc" is a complete a 180-degree turn: a sensitive piano ballad that falls somewhere on the family tree between Ziggy Stardust and 90's Britpop. The instrumental "Louis Reprise" wraps up the EP with a curious and playful mix of horns, violins and handclaps. It's an odd ending that completely breaks any genre mold the previous songs may have created and leaves one with the distinct impression that Louis XIV has no intentions of getting too comfortable with one style.

Jason Hill told PopMatters that after being burned by the end results of the last Convoy full-length he "can't imagine handing off our songs to anyone else now." This reportedly resulted in an Atlantic deal that guarantees the band the power to self-produce their coming material. If that's true, then there's plenty of hope that their upcoming full-length (and beyond) will be something to pay attention to. The last thing Louis XIV needs at this point is someone to rein in their eccentricities.