Goldfrapp Seventh Tree

[Mute; 2008]

Styles: pastures, kaleidoscopes, mist
Others: Liz Fraser, Kate Bush, English folk

Alison Goldfrapp's extremely versatile and expressive voice was never as well-served musically as the day she began her collaboration with composer Will Gregory (though Ian Simmonds came close with his Juryman project). From the cinematic grandeur of Felt Mountain, to the electro-glam stomp of Black Cherry, to the electro-pop cabaret of Supernature, Gregory has painstakingly worked with Goldfrapp in crafting each album as an exploration of texture and mood, customized to cradle and line whatever trill, yodel, or pout she conjured forth vocally, and progressing stylistically into whatever wilderness they chose fitting to their desires.

These progressions have, it should be said, actively divided her fans into camps with each transition. And when they shifted to the glam stomp of Black Cherry in the wake of the alpen odyssey Felt Mountain, it was considered treason to fans who felt that her instrument had been lost amid the newfound dynamic. Considered by many to be an extension of the Kate Bush or Elizabeth Fraser school of expression, some felt she was lost beneath the Add N to (X) tilted rumble and roll. Supernature, a suggested merging of themes found within the expressive swoon of Felt Mountain and the pouting Black Cherry, found them an ever wider audience, while drawing some of the previously lost back into the fold. Their fourth long-player Seventh Tree sees Goldfrapp’s continued progression into another artistic phase, and will once again incite a division.

Leaving behind the hyper-crafted retro-modern sleekness of Supernature, Goldfrapp have set about the task of finding their niche within the exercise of contemporary psychedelic folk. Those longing for the dancefloor stylings that were emphasized even further with oftentimes brilliant remixes will likely find little to satiate their needs on Seventh Tree. The record is a predominantly delicate affair, in some places threatening to evaporate altogether. Although capable of conveying endless variations on any given theme, Alison’s voice finds its strongest suit when paired with the organically shifting arrangements. Her vocals allow a greater freedom to explore the nuances of every orchestral line and gently rhythmic curve.

Opener “Clowns,” a simply-plucked guitar interlude accented with billowing strings and voice, signifies the stylistic change immediately. Alison employs phonetic breakdown of lyric, imbuing her words with the illusion of vaporizing as they leave her mouth. Beautiful and haunting, yes. It conjures spirits of the Twinlights release by The Cocteau Twins as readily as any of the folk touchstones that have been used as critical comparisons. The specter of the Twins also haunts subsequent track “Little Bird,” as it tilts and whirls on glistening loops and strings, building to a celestial crescendo that finds the fluttering glossolalia of Liz Fraser caught in Alison’s porcelain throat. You almost expect to hear the addition of the dreaded Yamaha DX7 drum machine in the background.

“Cologne Cerrone Houdini” is similar to “Little Bird” in its balance between pop and ethereal, with Alison’s voice taking flight from John Barry-Bond-theme orchestrations and the album’s intentions laid bare in the lyrics “Moments of perfection/ Idle in the sunshine/ Over there in yonder/ In another world.” Another example is “A&E,” the album's lead single. Initially held earthbound by a steady rhythm, it is propelled skyward with Alison’s breathy exaltations, spinning in streaks of sun. “Road to Somewhere,” “Some People,” and “Eat Yourself” are also rooted by their simple pop structures, but reaching outward, stream color dizzily, expanding into the heavenly hymns.

This isn't to suggest that there is a lack of proper pop songs on the album, appealing readily to immediate listener sensibilities.

“Happiness” sways to a Beatles-esque melody that wouldn’t sound out of place on Do You Imagine Things, the long-lost album by Manchester band Alfie, a band seemingly before their time, if the UK critical appreciation of Seventh Tree is any suggestion of their lost opportunity in finding a suitable time for their spotlight. “Caravan Girl” is equally immediate, an elegant pop construct noted by its relatively buoyant aura steeped in sunlight and nimble-footed escapism. However, you won't find anything as commanding as “Strict Machine” or “Ooh La La,” which might now just seem crass by measure if you have fallen under the album's charm.

The album ends quite perfectly with “Monster Love,” with Alison drawing the cosmos-bound vocals once again: “Everything comes around/ Bringing us back again/ Here is where we start/ And where we end,” which is repeated in upward-drifting cycles, a perfect summation of Goldfrapp’s gaze back to pastures they had once wandered on Felt Mountain. Contrary to other critiques befuddled by its simple sophistication, Seventh Tree hides its deeper beauties beneath a fine opaque shell. And if you are unwilling to look deeper than the shimmering surface, you will miss the sublime inner machinations where little movements work as cogs in a watch, where each diminutive orchestration contributing to a greater whole is fully expressed within the first instrument, the voice. It is a welcome return home to a band that had been on quite the bender.

Most Read