The idea of a modern French goth-tinged rock band for the 21st century may make a few people scratch their heads, but to their credit not only do ACWL pull it off on their debut album, they do so with undisputable style. A trio led by bassist/singer Celine, the band don't forget the rock part of the equation, and the combination of their dark but energetic and often poppy music -- indebted in ways from the Cure and U2 to Nirvana -- and her fine, entrancing voice puts a sharp spin on what French language music is "supposed" to sound like. No Francoise Hardy re-creations here, for a start, though the gentle chug of "Olga" does perhaps suggest Stereolab at points (David's drumming, supple and powerful throughout, certainly hits a light motorik groove well), at least before the energetic, swirling guitar solos courtesy of Jean kick in. The combination of Celine's sometimes ethereal, echoed singing and textured feedback crunch at many points calls to mind what a French version of Xmal Deutschland might sound like, though arguably ACWL take things to levels that group never quite reached. Consider the explosive but at the same time beautiful power of "L'Homme Moderne," fading out on Jean's guitar drones, as an instance where the trio perfectly balances two competing impulses. Her vocal directness succeeds just as well -- "Instantane" features her spoken word delivery, brisk and urgent, over an equally nervous break that climactically shifts into a major rockout. Plenty of other standout tracks -- the brittle, Banshees-tinged metallic guitar scrape on "Le Souvenir Errant," the anthemic lead melody and spectacular conclusion of "Ailleurs," the nervous, speaker-shredding cascade of "Clenez en Paix," Celine's voice fed through extra effects for emphasis -- help give this remarkable debut its appeal.
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