mute artists | lp+cd/cd/dl/box stumm356 | 09/09/2013
Apparently neither Alison Goldfrapp nor Will Gregory were happy with Head First, their 2010 ballsy, largesse-filled electronic disco album. Tales Of Us is, compared to that record, a much more subtle affair, closer in hue and texture to Felt Mountain‘s glacial soundscapes or Seventh Tree‘s naturalist folk leanings.
Subtle is the operative word here. Throughout Tales Of Us there’s an impression of much larger songs, great, strident moments even, but with few exceptions everything feels like it’s been rubbed away, leaving just an ethereal impression of what might have been there before. Guitars are strummed gently, sounds quietly murmur in the background fleetingly and Alison’s voice is delivered as little more than a ruminative whisper throughout most Tales Of Us. I’ve always found it difficult to decipher what she is singing about, and that’s even more of a challenge here; short of the word ‘caribou‘ on ‘Ulla’ which stands out almost preposterously on ‘Ulla’, I really struggle to crack the quiet musings across Tales Of Us.
Tales Of Us is presented as a series of ten character studies, each one a story about, or delivered by, the person named in the track’s title, making for – at least on paper – a personality crisis of multiple imagined identities, while the list of names might be the register of a private school classroom in a posh part of West London. As above, I can’t really make out anything in particular from the lyrics I can hear, but suffice to say the resultant theme is one of mournful serenity. That theme is evoked most prominently by the use of string arrangements, which I’m sure will get described as ‘lush orchestrations’; combined with the gentle guitar chords Tales Of Us runs the risk of sounding a little bit like it should be filed under the easy listening section (‘Drew’ even seems to remind me of ‘Strangers In The Night’ at one point).
Aside from the unassailable, ephemeral beauty of ‘Annabel’ or the ‘Blue Room’ dub pulse of ‘Thea’, taken as a whole I do find Tales Of Us a little safe. That these songs are pretty, delicate things is without question, but it just doesn’t feel terribly new. ‘Stranger’, for example, sounds like it was lifted straight from Felt Mountain. It’s undoubtedly arresting, undeniably emotional, but just a bit unadventurous after the brash pop of Head First. For me it proved to be the perfect soundtrack to watching clouds moving imperceptibly from 30,000 feet up.
Tales Of Us was released in several formats including the by now obligatory overstuffed, expensive, probably handmade boxed edition. A video was made for ‘Drew’, which can be viewed below.
First published 2013; edited 2014.
(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence