I Thought I Was An Alien is an album which nearly didn’t exist. In 2009 Stéphanie Sokolinski a.k.a. SoKo declared herself “dead” on My Space, quitting a music industry which scared her and refusing to release a completed double album. All this after having a hit single ‘It’ll Kill Her’ in the musical hotbeds of Australia and Denmark, touring with MIA and being courted by the Parisian catwalks. As far as strops go it was pretty ill-advised at the start of a career. Okay, as Neil Young said, “it’s better to burn out than to fade away”, but throwing it away so soon is more like the Memorex VHS skeletons refusing to fade [ask your parents], than a burning speedball through the eye socket.
The fact is, the Bordeux born SoKo doesn’t need to be a pop star. She’s a young French actress who’s appeared in TV shows and wonderful films including Ma Place Au Soleil, so if sombre acoustica isn’t for her then who are we to argue. Luckily for us though, hanging out in L.A. with Spike Jonze and Warpaint has given SoKo the rock bug once again, encouraging her to delicately craft I Thought I Was An Alien’s 15 beautifully woozy songs, which rubbish any claims she is merely a French Zooey Deschanel.
There’s always a risk with movie stars breaking into music, as with any crossover; talent in one art from doesn’t dictate an excellence in all disciplines. Keanu Reeves’ embarrassing band Dogstar comes to mind (actually Reeves’ entire career does too – except Wyld Stallyns who rule) or any Madonna film: follies which are only possible due the artists’ standing. But SoKo proves raw talent is the finest currency and she pays it out with gently understated vocals and haunting melodies. She isn’t showing off and shuns Californian cocksureness – no doubt thanks to Elliot Smith-collaborator Fritch Michaud’s guidance.
What’s so striking about I Thought I Was An Alien is how lo-fi it feels. ‘I Just Want To Make It New With You’ starts with a vintage drum machine and an under-amped popping bass barely supporting SoKo’s fragile vocals. As she sings “You start to think I’m boring cos I’m straight edge since I’m 18/But I’ll write you songs to prove I love you, although I hope you don’t hate me by then”, the album’s themes of loneliness and outsider chic become apparent, firmly bedded in twee melancholia, which is calmingly humble.
However, Soko’s sincerity comes in to question during ‘For Marlon’, where she claims “I’m a recovering addict, and sometimes I relapse” despite previously singing of being straight edge. Adopting different characters in song is understandable given her acting background, yet the heartfelt honesty in the music fools us into believing her. It’s just a ruse, though: I Thought I Was An Alien doesn’t tell us anything about SoKo herself, just what she wants us to think. It takes the idea of a lonesome Moldy Peaches fan and milks it for all it can.
With 15 songs the album is rather long and gets fairly monotonous, but as SoKo has been known to play three hour solo sets, an ability to self-edit obviously isn’t her strong point. Two of the albums longest songs,’ I’ve Been Here Too Long’ and ‘Treat Your Woman Right’, are acoustic finger-picked numbers which could have easily been left off, while the highlights such as ‘No More Home, No More Love’ are too brief at just past the two minute mark. This makes it feel like an elongated director’s cut: interesting but needing a bold edit. I Thought I Was An Alien is a perfect album for a melancholy Sunday afternoon, although Soko just needs to take herself less serious. It’s only pop music after all.