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Goldfrapp’s ‘Tales Of Us’: Album Review

793f65ee990e307dbdb59f80bb8aa576 Goldfrapp’s ‘Tales Of Us’: Album Review

Always anticipate a sharp turn from Goldfrapp. The UK duo of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory has an illustrious record of bringing a new sound to each release. They’ve jumped from grinding glam pop to Gary Numan-esque new wave to pastoral English folktronica. Not quite a concept album, Tales of Us (out today, ), is a further leap: a collection of ten mid-tempo songs, all but one bearing the name of a person. The arrangements are rooted in acoustics, but end up swimming in the deep end of an orchestral sea.

“Jo” opens the record — their sixth — with a red herring: a burst of synth strings. They quickly fade to a plucked bass, piano and Alison Goldfrapp’s beautiful voice singing, “Heard a shot and someone calling, strained in darkness.” It’s as if she’s passed from Technicolor into noirish black and white, following 2010’s sparkly Head First. That record, a kicky if lightweight homage to chunky ’80s synth rock,  stands in stark contrast to Tales, which may not be rock ’n’ roll, but was nonetheless crafted by the band’s punk ethos of “we do what we want, charts be damned.”

Returning without warning in July, they launched the album with “Drew” and its companion video. The track has lineage in the songs on 2007’s The Seventh Tree, which dabbled in electronica-laced folkiness. “Drew” is distilled Goldfrapp, with evocative images of a “falling lemon moon” and an exhilarating moment at 2:10 where the song (and video) goes widescreen with soaring stings.

Goldfrapp herself has never sounded warmer. On “Laurel” she even reveals a new voice: sounding almost submerged underwater, her register dips low, as if she’s transmitting an inner blues. In recent interviews, Goldfrapp has said these songs are narratives inspired by fiction and film; her sometimes indecipherable vocals enhance the music’s impressionistic qualities.

Several tracks are also inspired by true stories: “Annabel,” is based on the life of a young hermaphrodite expected to choose one sexual identity, while the ecstatic closer, “Clay,” is inspired by the loving eulogy of a WWII solider to his male lover, killed in battle. “You are wonderful light, my only love / sleep well, goodnight,” she sings on the album’s final lines.

For fans most enamored by the Goldfrapp that deftly splices disco music to Bondian grandeur (see Black Cherry’s “Tiptoe”), only the pounding, complex “Thea” will sate. But don’t mistake subtly for weakness: the album is a perfect autumn headphone record. It will sound best as the seasons change, a soundtrack to falling leaves and lit fireplaces. To paraphrase one of the album’s astonishing ballads, “Stranger,” Tales Of Us will kill you, tenderly.

Idolator Rating: 4/5

Stephen Sears

 

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