PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Much of the most moving, long-lasting music succeeds at capturing a certain feeling of transcendence . . . the sense of newness found when hovering between sleep and awakeness, when seeing a breathtaking sunset or while kissing someone for the first time. If all too many musicians seek this sort of dreamlike state of freedom through new-age ambient swirls or retro-hippie jamming, Alsace Lorraine manage to grasp it within the confines of the three-minute pop song. It’s quite a feat, and their debut album Through Small Windows is filled with gorgeous, comforting pop songs that carry with them the aura of being something truly special.
The sublime pleasures to be found on Through Small Windows arise out of both the musical textures and the melodious compactness of the songs. Alsace Lorraine show that it’s possible to play well-crafted, concise pop songs and retain a sense of mystery. Their music is built around a blissful mix of synthesizers, beats and tuneful guitar which serves as the perfect surface for vocalist Caitlin Brice’s smooth, gentle voice to glide upon. To put it simply, her voice is beautiful. The poetry of the lyrics, the remarkable pop hooks and the genuine heart behind the songs are all showcased naturally through her voice and the way it fits so comfortably with the music, provided by the group’s other members, Hewson Chen and Paul Francke.
“I’m like all the air that sits on the sea / You are like Charles Lindbergh to me”, Brice sings during the album’s opening song (“You Are Like Charles Lindbergh to Me”), playing with images while setting up a romantic mood that sticks around to the album’s end. Alsace Lorraine’s lyrics are infused with imagination and invention (of the kind generally described as “childlike”, a fact that sadly says more about societal conceptions of how children and adults should behave than anything else), as well as both an idealistic vision of romance and a current of genuine pain and sadness. The best pop music nearly always has a knowledge of the hurt and despair of life underneath the bouncy melodies and sunny air, and Alsace Lorraine’s songs are no exception. On a song like the slow and shimmering ballad “Summer Days at Home”, a sense of desperation is everywhere: “Sometimes in the morning, I’d fall asleep outside your door/mercy, I’m so sorry, you’re not my favorite place no more”.
In the photographs that make up Through Small Windows’ album art, a woman gazes off a balcony, people walk down a busy street, a child sits on the floor, her head on her knees. All of these people are colored with a bluish-green tint, giving them the appearance of otherworldliness despite the ordinariness of their actions. Alsace Lorraine’s music adds the same magical color to the world around us. They use music in the best way, to remind us of the breathtaking scope of life while enchanting us with spectacular sounds and atmospheres.