Goldfrapp- Tales of Us

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Friday, October 4, 2013

Goldfrapp has been one of those bands that refuse to be lumped into one particular category, offering both softer introspective arrangements and bombastic electronic dance and synth pop over the course of their career. 2010’s Head First was heavily influenced by 80s pop and went for a vibrant and energetic sound, while this year’s Tales of Us heads back towards the softer folk and downtempo that the group showcased on Felt Mountain and Seventh Tree. It’s a very nuanced effort that may take a few spins to truly get a feel for, but is further proof that Goldfrapp can be truly compelling whether they’re offering flashier electronic beats or softer melodies.

Tales of Us might be the sparsest album that this duo has written in quite a few years, but that definitely isn’t a bad thing. The material tends to be driven by the vocals this time around, leaving the instrumentals to expand softly in the background. However, while the first time through some of the song structures may feel extremely similar to each other as I continued to listen to these tracks the subtler nuances became more pronounced and really caught my attention. What Goldfrapp has managed to achieve on this album are soft melodies that expand over the course of each song, often culminating in fuller soundscapes that incorporate strings and other instruments to pull the listener in. There is even a slight hint to their flashier dance and synth pop style on “Thea” which brings a driving beat back into the mix, but for the most part this remains a fairly subdued effort that demands you to truly pay attention to get the most out of it. Over the years I have seen some fans wishing for a return to the warmer trip hop and softer folktronica slant that was present on the band’s debut, and I feel this is the closest they have come to returning to that point in quite some time. Admittedly there are a few songs that came and went without truly grabbing me, even after listening to this album for almost an entire day, but the strength of songs like “Annabel” and “Alvar” have ensured that I still wanted to return to this material to get lost in the layers of sound all over again.

The instrumental work may have won me over on subsequent listens, but Alison Goldfrapp’s vocal work remains the highlight of this album. Although this has been tended to be the case throughout the band’s career, the performance stands out even more this time around thanks to the softer instrumental work that allows her voice to absolutely soar over the material. The range that Goldfrapp is able to cover on almost every song is what really drew me in, as she is able to start off with a softer more subdued pitch and then gradually build until her voice reaches a point that is sure to send chills down your spine. Although I have liked each of the directions this group has gone in, I think the amount of emotion and depth that is present in the vocal work this time around had made Tales of Us stand out a bit more overall. What has continued to impress me about Alison’s voice is that each time I think she’s hit a peak level of performance she only seems to get better the next time around, and the increased emphasis on her vocals on this album have played a significant role in why I’ve spent so much time with these tracks.

Supernature and some of Goldfrapp’s flashier efforts may have made an immediate impression, but Tales of Us took me a few listens to fully appreciate. But the more times I make my way through it, the more the ideas have really started to stick and I have found the softer melodies and stunning vocal performance to be truly enchanting. I still like when this duo goes full synth pop, but think that when they go for a softer and dreamy sound is when they are at their best and those of you who feel the same way will definitely want to give this album a listen.

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