Few records come along with as much depth, personality and raw expressionism as "Tales of Us", the sixth album released by the constantly evolving Goldfrapp. The duo forming the band, Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, are known for their experimental, unique and incredibly powerful music that changes in style with each consecutive album release. From electro glam-pop to hazy atmospheres and synth-addled distortion, the band refuses to stand still and it proves a powerful weapon in their arsenal.
With "Tales of Us", the band scaled back to a more bare bones, stripped-down and acoustic soundscape forming the background of ten wonderfully weaved stories, each titled after their respective protagonists save for the haunting Stranger. Gender identity, introversion, heartbreak and self-discovery are recurring themes throughout this visceral, sharp and striking collection of songs akin to the band's 2001 release, "Felt Mountain". Opting for a more simplified sound positively affected the maturity of the record, but it refrains from sounding bare and overly stripped. Beautiful orchestral arrangements and an occasional peppering of digital synths mingles nicely with the aforementioned acoustics and vocal concentration. Alison Goldfrapp is at the very top of her game here, and in ever-present fine form. With her lingering, honey-drenched voice the listener enters a melancholic, haunting and emotional world - and it truly is a masterfully executed atmosphere. There really is little else comparable to the feeling this record evokes.
Some truly remarkable standout tracks include the opener, "Jo", with a luscious chorus and unforgettable vocal arrangement surrounded by a forest of whirling strings and the eerie singsong lines, "run, you better run, you better run for your life" that chase the listener along the way menacingly. "Annabel", plucking along with an acoustic guitar before building into an orchestral climax, serves as a vivid story of personal struggle and contemplation. "Laurel", with Alison's vocals lilting and rolling like waves softly lapping on a forlorn shoreline, is a stunning tour-de-force of storytelling and possesses a truly personal sound that provides a brilliant method to the perspective formed in the lyrics. "Drew" is another gem on the record, with searing strings reminiscent of a deeply dramatic Edwardian waltz and meticulously interpersonal lyrics, with the lines "feel the cold arrive in my bones" and "you bumped and crashed in dirty snow, up to our sin I might as well melt into Sunday" focusing sharply on the wonderful storytelling portrayed behind the eyes of the characters living in this record.
A personal favourite is "Thea", a track unlike anything else on the record. While most of "Tales of Us" consists of soft, orchestral ballads, this track is a complete about-face and the only required one on the record. It is very much akin to the band's hit single "Strict Machine", though resurrected in a primal, tribal form and stomping all the way like a wild horse in fervent fields. The chorus consists of what is likely Goldfrapp's best composition yet, with Alison's vocals soaring to ferocious transcendency amidst roaring drums and bells that wouldn't be out of place on Fleetwood Mac's album "Tusk" (in a very good way). If one needs a track to prove to them how capable the band can be, then "Thea" is the first I'd recommend listening to on this record. Unquestionably.
The band ensured that the stories told in this album would be given the amount of respectful expressionism they deserve, and thus have released five videos, each beautifully accompanying their respective album track. Personal favourites are the videos for "Stranger" and "Drew". All of these stunningly gorgeous videos were filmed from lent equipment and on a small budget, and it really is an amazing result, proof that the amount of money isn't the influencer of quality, but rather the amount of creativity and initiative from the artists themselves. Combined with lush production and detail layered with Alison's velveteen vocals and you have a true work of intricate, focused and vibrant art in the form of the five videos released.
Many people outside of the U.K haven't heard of Goldfrapp, yet the band has been around for years and influenced more artists than anyone can possibly imagine, from Madonna to RuPaul. It is true that the greatest artists aren't properly respected during their time, but if Goldfrapp continues to produce deeply personal, evocative and engaging compositions such as those on "Tales of Us", it is only a matter of time before they gain their rightful place at the top. There are truly very few masters of the musical arts around, and much music released is the equivalent of processed cheese, but if you are to delve into new musical discoveries then Goldfrapp is, quintessentially, the band to start with. You won't regret it. These artists are truly deserving of your attention, and are some of the greatest visionaries around today.