erasing clouds

Alsace Lorraine, Dark One

reviewed by dave heaton

Five years after their previous release, Alsace Lorraine has returned, both different and the same. Paul Francke and friends are again playing transcendent, pretty synth-pop, often reminiscent in sound of the first two Magnetic Fields albums (and their new wave/bubblegum roots). Yet there's a gravity here I don't recall of their previous LP, Through Small Windows. Maybe it arises from Caitlin Brice's breezy voice mostly being replaced by the equally distinctive voice of the Argentinean group Entre Rios' chanteuse Isol (uncommonly singing in English), and with Francke's own. But some of the darker-tinged songs also seem somehow subtly grounded in old folk-song traditions. It's not just the lyrical reference to "Barbry Allen", or to rivers and mountains and wins; it's something subtly there in the songs with the most guitar, the songs that sound loneliest, like "The Gravel Dew."

That song is filled with loneliness, and questions of what will come next for our jilted protagonist. Love is a prickly thing, in these songs. Francke has a way of writing complex, poetic, philosophical explorations of love as song lyrics, and then fitting what should be unwieldy word combinations to pop tunes where the vocals glide naturally along.

"Please say you're not in love with me cause you need a living thing to hold / that just makes the world more cold", one lover thinks toward another, or says. It's unclear, but I imagine the sentiment as said but unspoken, like those of the character in "Stormy Sky (Skate or Die)", a woman telling a lover that he hurt her terribly, but that she's stuck on him anyway. There's an internal lost in one's own world quality to this music, but it's also so evocative of late-night, reckless young lovers: fighting, making up, carousing, running wild, like characters in a French New Wave film. One of the two times the title phrase "dark one" is sung (on opener "As We Fight"), it refers to the way young people in love talk to each other, their own "form of speech, a dark one."

Another string of words repeated across two songs: "Girl, don't hide your strange side." Certainly Alsace Lorraine doesn't hide its strange side, but it also makes it part and parcel with some truly gorgeous melodies and sounds, and an overall atmosphere that speaks to the night sky and the churning heart alike.


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