So chameleonic have Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory been across their illustrious histories together when orchestrating under the surname of the former, that second-guessing their next stylistic deviation has become something of a futile pastime. From the expansive firmamental euphoria of début album Felt Mountain and on into the piquant pizzazz of Black Cherry, the electroclash sass of Supernature and back down toward the sumptuously pastoral timbres of Seventh Tree, their creative trajectory has wavered more regularly than most waveforms contrived of vintage synth modules. Although since that lattermost endeavour, the duo have erred on a rather more modest outlook toward their livelihood. Granted, Head First nodded in the nebulous direction of that more elaborate past, playing up to Alison’s cherished ethereality, but if its cranium were firmly lodged in the clouds, then it kept its feet glued to the ground.
Tales Of Us by contrast, a ten-piece opus that follows up the pair’s therefore predictably disjointed The Singles collection of yesteryear, witnesses a slight reversion to the quaintly rooty acoustica of Seventh Tree. The relevance of this is made self-evident by the album’s every piece pinching a title from a litany of largely unorthodox Christian names, for Tales Of Us is a seemed attempt to return a familiar intimacy to things. And it for the most part succeeds with Goldfrapp’s typical poise…
Jo, an introductory encounter, is made up of muffled plucks and gutsy orchestral surges, Alison entreating “you better run for your life” atop a thereby discombobulating blend of floaty inertia and finely seasoned subtlety. Jo, it would appear, has been at the soporifics, and yet the blood of a black dog continues to whirl mischievously around the circulatory system. “Heard a shout of someone calling, strange and darkness/ People lack all feelings, over the city tonight” it begins, although its listless metre couldn’t be further removed from the band’s London beginnings, as they instead rekindle an enduring compassion for the bucolic West Country in which, as has so often been their wont, Tales Of Us was recorded. Annabel also succumbs to that same call of nature, the plaintive lilt of a willowy acoustic locked in sorrowful union with Alison’s frangible lament. “Gentle whisper, endless winters, Annabel” she soothes as though serenading a stillborn, telling of the cyclical fruitlessness the season brings with it. Indeed, it feels highly suitable that the greatest strength of Tales Of Us lies in its indwelling ability to excite the neurones and make that truly human impact in the heart and mind of the beholder.
Drew who, along with Annabel, was the album’s solitary other previous acquaintance prior to embarking upon this ring around what can only become a close-knit friendship group with repeated meeting, only fortifies the impression, a plucky, fingerpicked guitar part consummately married to Alison’s inviting calls to “pull up the blinds; open the door wide.” And as we subsequently enter into the unknown, Drew becomes the doormat of sorts; the dewy springboard from whence Tales Of Us really opens up. Like the fresh elasticity of a summer newly sprung, much élan lies in wait: the languid pomp of Simone; the Nancy Sinatra-styled urbanity of Stranger that, although unfamiliar in timbre, proves irresistible as Morricone whistling meets with Francophile guile; or the moistened staccato vibrancy of Clay. There may be no unrestrained electro glitz here compiled, but there’s no shortage of variety on display, either: from the Reichian jitters Thea suffers from to the sweeping mist to enshroud Ulla, Goldfrapp have here contrived an album perfectly attuned to the contemporary that, although evocative of various times of year and thereby exempt from temporal detention, never finds itself confined to any one lone mood.
And it’s Alvar – the undemonstratively melodramatic tale to conclude the first half of the album – that might in time be remembered amongst their most timeless compositions, as that choral effect to so insistently nag Robert Smith’s trademark guitars scores the slowly fortifying sense of crescendo. Alison’s again wintry lyricisms of breathing the land increasingly overwhelmed with whiteout manipulation, it becomes the compelling fulcrum; the apex down from which they ski in tandem all the way across its latter half. And although a veritable avalanche of hexing inspiration, never is this epicentral piece ever buried beneath the artistic heft of that which proceeds it.
Released: September 9th, 2013 [Mute]