When Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory burst into the public consciousness with the other-worldly Felt Mountain in 2000 comparisons were made with the slew of ‘trip hop’ (remember that?) bands at the time, whom Portishead were also unfairly lumped in with. Goldfrapp were a cut above – more of a direct descendent of Cocteau Twins chiming otherworldliness (as it was probably called by the music press). Alison’s appearances on Tricky‘s seminal Maxinquaye had established her hip credentials, but Felt Mountain remained a distinctly cult affair. Fast forward a few years and suddenly we had a poly-sexual, hip thrusting, Madonna-influencing vamp on our hands, a kind of 25th century Marc Bolan. Then an acoustic reinvention and some distinctly hippy-folk overtones with Seventh Tree, which leads us nicely to Tales of Us in 2013.
Going full circle, Cocteau Twins are present once more, circa Victorialand/Treasure (the girls’ names of the latter being a direct comparison, naturally). The indie-dance brigade may baulk at the acoustic, Spector-ish ambience of the entire album, but listen deep and you will discover a beautiful, mesmeric collection of songs, inspired by friends and maybe lovers. ‘Ulla’s backwards loops and ‘White Horses’ echoes deliver exquisite harmonies and trembling cello, whilst ‘Alvar’ truly exposes Goldfrapp’s child-like, breathy voice as a thing of beauty, often lost under the mass of production and bleeps on previous albums. Actually, add in drums (there are none present throughout) and the song structures would not differ wildly from the hits, but songs like ‘Anna’ are so gentle, so precise, so petal-like that they need the lightness of touch this record offers. Gregory’s playing and composition shines throughout, particularly on ‘Jo’ which sees electronic strings seguing into double bass over a cyclic vocal. It’s enchanting.
It is both comforting and inspiring to see Goldfrapp growing slowly into their second decade as artists and musicians, clearly and defiantly making music for themselves. Perhaps they always have done. But Tales of Us is a benchmark of sorts, and a wondrous thing indeed.