Alsace Lorraine: Dark One

I listened to Alsace Lorraine's Dark One a number of times before its kinship with His Name is Alive's Stars on E.S.P. declared itself, and what triggered the connection was Isol's (Marisol Misenta, formerly of Entre Rios) creamy vocalizing (in fact, “No Stars” could fit onto the HNIA disc so seamlessly no one would notice it's the product of a different band). Though she sings on only eight of the album's fifteen songs, her contributions clearly elevate the album to a higher plane. On some songs, Alsace Lorraine leader Paul Francke handles the vocal duties alone and his singing's fine too. Dark One, which also features contributions from Caitlin Brice (backing vocals on “Senile Rings”) and remixes by Ian Catt (St. Etienne) and Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins), includes multiple examples of three-minute, dream-pop magic.

On the follow-up to its debut Through Small Windows, Alsace Lorraine proves itself adept at any number of styles. Electric guitars shudder throughout “Senile Rings,” which moves from laid-back breeziness to harder-edged funk in less than four minutes, while “Claire” is uptempo and spirited in its revisitation of the “Walking on Sunshine” groove. Stealing its snappy rhythm from Motown classics like “You Can't Hurry Love,” the sparkling “Call for the Papers” proves especially irresistible when Isol's sensual coo alternates with Francke's singing. She waxes dramatic on the melancholic dub workout “Go from My Window (Flooded Interstate)” while “As We Fight” offers a delightful marriage of folk twang and potent pop hooks. Best of all, the pastoral “One Day, Far Off, If the World Forgot” is filled with yearning melodies so lovely they induce goosebumps, and, not surprisingly, the combination of Robin Guthrie's production mastery and Isol's whispered vocal in the closing remix of “The Tall Grass” proves as heavenly as one might have hoped it would be.

June 2007