Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Goldfrapp: Tales of Us (2013)



Once again, Goldfrapp has taken an unexpected turn -- the duo harnesses their restlessness and, as usual, makes something of it. There aren't many album-to-album transitions as drastic as that from the '80s pop radio pastiche of Head First to this somber record of love ballads, produced and performed as starkly as if they were recorded in some frigid, deserted bunker.

Tales of Us is driven by concept: each song is a name, and a story to accompany that name, and those stories and lyrics are varied and sophisticated while the songs themselves are consistent, airless, determinedly intimate. This is, obviously, closer to Felt Mountain than to Supernature, but Goldfrapp's never really done anything like it before. The songs' lush environment is almost classicist, like a faithful recording of standards. Those who prefer lively Goldfrapp may be put off a bit, but if Head First demonstrated that there were limits to nostalgic hedonism, at least Tales of Us proves that the band's songwriting chops are sharper than ever.

Alison Goldfrapp's vocals are the star in these muted, subtle recordings -- she's never shown more nuance or raw, perfect beauty; her work here is impressive and timeless, as if some encased embodiment of a performance of long ago. The songs rumble and even soar at times -- "Thea" kicks some dirt into the sullen mood, and all of the tracks build to expansive peaks -- but don't assert themselves over-emphatically. Goldfrapp expects you to do the work of exploring these characters and this moment, and while the result is more involving and heavy than the band's finest records, on the right moody dark night it's just as rewarding. As moping indulgence goes, it sure beats Zola Jesus or Bill Callahan.

Head First (2010)

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