In the nearly 17 years since they emerged with the experimental electronica of Felt Mountain (2000), Goldfrapp has cultivated a unique penchant for the unpredictable, pivoting and recalibrating their sound right when you least expect it. Indeed, when surveyed collectively and sequentially, the six studio albums that vocalist Alison Goldfrapp and soundsmith Will Gregory have crafted to date constitute an ongoing series of musical mood swings and creative reinventions.
The London-based duo followed up their ethereal, Mercury Prize shortlisted debut with 2003’s Black Cherry, embracing a markedly harder, dancefloor driven edge, which then segued two years later into the seductive, largely uptempo synthpop of Supernature (2005), arguably the masterpiece of their repertoire. 2008’s excellent Seventh Tree signaled a departure from the strobe-lit anthems of its precursor, in favor of more lushly orchestrated reveries that elevated Alison’s versatile voice to the forefront. While the group returned to more ebullient, ‘80s pop inspired fare on the underappreciated Head First (2010), they flipped back to more understated, symphonic soundscapes on 2013’s dreamlike concept album Tales of Us.
While predicting their next musical move has often proven an exercise in futility, all of Goldfrapp’s music has shared one common defining quality: it all sounds incredible. Thankfully, but not surprisingly, their pursuit of perfectionism is once again evident across album number seven, the lunar-themed Single Eye. “I find it very comforting that [the moon]'s still there and relatively unscathed by human beings,” Alison recently confided to Rolling Stone. “It still holds mystery, which it seems like a lot of things in our daily life don't. It's a constant source of inspiration. The elemental is a theme throughout; I like the juxtaposition of the organic with the metal sound of the music as well. I like those kinds of clashes; I'm kind of interested in the whole idea of human versus nature, and science versus nature, and the idea of ritual and mysticism and all these things.”
Those who interpreted the scrumptiously eroticized, synth-laden lead single “Anymore” as an indication of the group’s return to super(nature)-charged, dance-driven hedonism, with more of the same to come across the expanse of Silver Eye, should really know better by now. An understandable, attention-grabbing choice for the album’s opening track, “Anymore” is more the exception than the rule here. The closest analogs are the soaring, existentialist anthem “Everything is Never Enough,” the crunch and clang of the electroclash/industrial ode to self-awareness “Become the One,” and the dense, midtempo dirge “Systemagic,” which finds Alison cooing sweet nothings like “Waning moon in plutonic dreams / You're my kinda bling, my alibi.”
But the majority of Silver Eye’s songs are wrapped within an ambient sheen and sprawling atmospherics, the finest examples being the absorbing, multi-layered comedown of “Tigerman,” the gorgeous “Faux Suede Drifter” enriched by Alison’s semi-coherent phrasing loosely reminiscent of Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser, and the absorbing crescendo swell of closing track “Ocean,” which accelerates the pace in its final moments.
As is Goldfrapp’s trademark, Silver Eye is an intricately constructed musical tapestry, replete with multiple sonic ingredients and vocal flourishes that coalesce for another enchanting affair. The album feels very much contemporary, but also indebted to electro-pop’s past, with faint echoes of Depeche Mode’s mid ‘90s gem Ultra discernible throughout. Each of Goldfrapp’s seven albums cannot be understood and appreciated upon cursory listens alone, so their latest warrants commitment from its listeners. I, for one, can’t wait to spend even more time with it, comfortable in the knowledge that I’ll be surprised and delighted anew with each subsequent spin.
Notable Tracks: “Anymore” | “Everything is Never Enough” | “Faux Suede Drifter” | “Ocean”