Goldfrapp – Black Cherry

Goldfrapp’s second album finds the duo moving from the chilled ethereal ambience of Felt Mountain into a sort of robotic retro-modernism. There are moments that nod in the textural direction of their debut, such as the serene title track or the beautiful ‘Deep Honey’, but on the whole Black Cherry is a harder, more direct affair.

Black cherry was always the flavour of yoghurt that no-one else wanted from the fridge in our household, a weird vestigial throwback to 70s faux sophistication, no doubt achieved via an array of bitter E numbers; it’s one of those ‘love it or hate it’ flavours, and I guess this analogy works well regarding this album. In many ways, the disparity between Felt Mountain and this may not taste good to some who only bought their debut for its chilled vibe and its placement in the voguish late 90s chill out compilation canon. Personally, I loved black cherry, and I love Black Cherry.

Alison Goldfrapp‘s voice has always possessed a certain sensuality which has the capacity to draw you in and surround you with half-whispered temptations. That tone is best evidenced on the penultimate track, ‘Forever’, which is full of achingly seductive promise, Alison’s captivating vocal expertly accompanied by Will Gregory‘s chastened electronic textures and a sort of Beatles-y psychedelia. Elsewhere, the opener, ‘Crystalline Green’ is a hypnotic stream of words set to a jerky electro rhythm, while the prowling multiple climaxes of ‘Slippage’ that end the album edge forward with a nagging, ‘Nightclubbing’ pace and a large pinch of burlesque noir.

At times, Black Cherry is a thoroughly over-sexed, occasionally grubby affair, with the single ‘Twist’ getting as close as the duo ever dared get to the sound and imagery of Peaches. The gritty square wave-dominant sound that dominates parts of the album is both extreme and a shock to the system after their spell working the ambient torch song ephemerality of their debut. Singles like the glam-infused ‘Train’ and the deftly ubiquitous – yet utterly subversive – ‘Strict Machine’ more or less defined a new, more urgent and confrontational dimension to the Goldfrapp sound, one that allowed them to slip effortlessly – but perhaps unexpectedly – into a new and eclectic early 2000s anything-goes pop movement.

Catref: stumm196
Words: Mat Smith

Originally posted 2003; edited and re-posted 2019 to coincide with the vinyl reissue of Black Cherry.

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

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Will Gregory – Dolphins: Spy In The Pod (BBC, first aired 2014)

  

Dolphins: Spy In The Pod soundtrack | BBC | first aired 2014

Continuing his parallel career as a soundtrack composer for innovative BBC nature documentaries, Goldfrapp‘s Will Gregory provided the music to Dolphins: Spy In The Pod, first broadcast in January 2014. Reflecting the playful scenes of dolphins interacting with each other and the cameras hidden in the likes of a robotic tuna and turtle, Gregory’s music occasionally sounds a lot like the calypso music made for Disney’s The Little Mermaid, so much so that you half expect Sebastian to start singing ‘Under The Sea’ at any moment. Elsewhere there’s a sort of dreamy, aquatic ambience filled with languid guitar lines and wave-like textures.

The music has never been released officialy to the best of my knowledge, but a DVD of the David Tennant-narrated documentary can be bought from Amazon etc.

First posted 2014; edited 2015

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Goldfrapp – Head First (Mute Records album, 2010)

  

mute records | lp/c/cd/i stumm320 | 22/03/2010

Head First finds the duo of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory abandoning not only the hippy etherialism of last album Seventh Tree but also the confrontational, over-sexed electronica – in the vein of, say, Peaches and Client – in favour of a pure pop sound. At first you’d think that this is intended to permit Goldfrapp to drop neatly into the current trend for female-fronted synth pop acts a la La Roux, Little Boots, who are intent on sweeping up the vast electronica vistas of the Eighties and claiming them as their own; but this is released on Mute, which has been producing quality, credible and enduring electronic music since before the Eighties were even born. Specifically, I’d suggest the influence of Vince Clarke during his late Eighties analogue renaissance would be a principal marker for the noises offered up on Head First.

This is synth pop at its shimmering, shiniest best. I’ve not listened to an electronic pop record for many years (probably since Erasure‘s last) that’s had me so captivated from the opening seconds. In Head First‘s case, that opener is the sublime first single ‘Rocket’ and is quickly followed by ‘Believer’, which starts with minimal pulsing beats before snapping into a huge sing-along chorus the likes of which Goldfrapp seem set on nurturing across most of Head First.

The second single, ‘Alive’ is a ballsy, disco-y track (in the vein of, say, Stock Aitken and Waterman’s take on the genre with Big Fun perhaps) which neatly encapsulates the vibe of Scissor Sisters. ‘Dreaming’ is probably my personal favourite song here – beginning with pulsing synths and breathy words that I can barely decipher, it’s the pleasantly uplifting chorus which provides the core emotional hook of the track. Title track ‘Head First’ sounded to me like an Abba cover with its simple piano lines and grandeur-filled bridge, and I wasn’t surprised to see journalists reviewing the album citing the same similarity. It’s a beautiful love song that the Andersson-Ulvaeus could feasibly claim as being descended from one of their own.

‘Hunt’ is less pop and more like something that the Goldfrapp / Gregory duo may have delivered up on Felt Mountain. The electronics sound submerged and minimal and Goldfrapp’s vocal reminds of how broad her sonic range can be. ‘Hunt’ shares some similarities with the only dip across the whole album, closing track ‘Voice Thing’, which, as its name suggests features Goldfrapp’s voice (wordlessly singing as she did on the Orbital records from years gone by) as a textural instrument. It’s clever, certainly, but a bit low-key compared to the rest of the album. ‘Shiny And Warm’ – a fast-paced and fairly minimal piece – is a song I’m not especially keen on, but it’s growing on me gradually. ‘I Wanna Life’, however, with a few more Abba overtones and a massive dose of Fame-esque optimistic cheeriness is much better.

Overall, this is a brilliant album, setting the duo off on an exciting new course. A couple of below par tracks aside, this really is essential listening for anyone looking for authentic electronic pop music from this consistently inventive pairing.

A cassette version of Head First was released by Mute for Record Store Day 2010.

lp/c/cd/i:
1. Rocket
2. Believer
3. Alive
4. Dreaming
5. Head First
6. Hunt
7. Shiny And Warm
8. I Wanna Life
9. Voicething

First posted 2010; re-edited 2015

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, All Saints Church, Hove 15/05/2014

Image

DSC_1960 DSC_1954 Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, All Saints Church, Hove 15/05/2014 - (c) Andy Sturmey Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, All Saints Church, Hove 15/05/2014 - (c) Andy Sturmey

Will Gregory Moog Ensemble performing at All Saints Church, Hove 15/05/2014.

Photos used with kind permission of Andy Sturmey (Brightlights-Darkroom Photography).

Click individual images to enlarge.

(c) 2014 Andy Sturmey / Brightlights-Darkroom Photography

Goldfrapp – Tales Of Us (Mute Records album, 2013)

Goldfrapp 'Tales Of Us' LP artwork

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.

Track listing:

lp+cd/cd/dl:
1. Jo
2. Annabel
3. Drew
4. Ulla
5. Alvar
6. Thea
7. Simone
8. Stranger
9. Laurel
10. Clay

First published 2013; edited 2014.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence