Alsace Lorraine: Dark One

A delicate display of windswept dream pop -- though maybe a bit too delicate.

Alsace Lorraine

Dark One

Label: Darla
US Release Date: 2007-05-08
UK Release Date: 2007-05-14

Alsace Lorraine plays music that’s pretty, but not in the way you’d expect. Pretty like the girl you took out on a date who couldn’t hold a two-minute conversation -- looks good on the outside, but ultimately lacks substance. The band’s 2001 debut, Through Small Windows, was a delicate display of windswept dream pop. The release was pleasant, but, at times, closely resembled vapid elevator music. Dark One, the band's sophomore effort, is a bit more defined and engaging, and this may be due to the contribution of the group's new vocalist, Isol.

The Argentinean chanteuse, who conjures up Astrud Gilberto, is singing for the first time in English and has an adorably insufficient grasp of the language. Her presence, alongside Paul Francke's elegant melodies, provides a crisp aspect to the characteristically vacant songs. She also contributed to the songwriting for the tracks she sings on, making the Francke/Isol duo the new face of Alsace Lorraine.

Conspicuously absent on this effort are the vocals of Caitlin Brice. Brice, whose whispery, frail voice pervaded throughout Windows, takes a backseat -- providing harmonies on one song. Not that I want to over-emphasize the lineup change, but when Francke's monotone delivery enters in "Dulce at Decorum" you get an unwanted glimpse into the utter mediocrity of their previous effort. Likewise on "One Day, Far Off, if the World Forgot", where Francke endlessly laments the "faint androgynerds" and dulled "record grooves" -- I shudder at such a world. He makes a brief attempt at Britpop with the upbeat "Claire", before offering yet another lyrical and stylistic downer, "Burden Down".

It's the tracks with Isol that really give the listener something to hold on to. Her soft vocals and fledgling ESL skills shine brightly on the opening track "As We Fight" (although I'm not sure she wrote the line "Home Skillet, does she calm your dad?"). The song is one of the few unmistakably poppy songs amongst a sea of sad and somber ballads. "Call for Papers" shows the dream pop duo alternating verses and harmonizing the chorus; the contrast is a welcome addition to the tepid atmosphere which permeates throughout Francke's compositions.

The album really makes an imprint with "The Tall Grass" -- Isol's most delightful and enticing ballad. The song exemplifies the fruitful marriage of Isol's delicate voice with Francke's atmospheric tunes. However, "The Tall Grass" is a brief 2:11, quickly giving way to Francke's dreary voice with "Lost Province" -- a song that had me grasping for my iPod to search for the Argentinean accent once again. "Go from My Window" provides a steady beat to Isol's voice, and "No Stars" has the two wispy vocalists combing once again to lambaste the modeling business (why not?). Among the other 15 tracks are remixes of "Tall Grass" and "Call for Papers" which, for the sake of brevity, could have been scrapped (the originals are fine enough). And then there's Francke's sole acoustic lament, "The Gravel Road", sandwiched between the two remixes. "It saw you wake before the sunrise / You thought you left without a sound", Franke explains in an eerily stalker-like deadpan.

Alsace Lorraine plays the kind of music you badly want to like. It's pretty, somber, sincere, and coherent. Paul Francke's sparse, light, atmospheric arrangements are pleasant, but it really takes Isol, the Argentinean songstress, to breathe some life into this band. And it will be interesting to see how this collaboration will develop over time. I sincerely hope they continue to make music together, because without Isol's voice I am anxious to stop the elevator and get out at the next floor.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.