Goldfrapp’s “Seventh Tree”

Feb 28, 2008 5:08pm

Goldfrapp have set very high standards since their 2000, almost cinematic-sounding debut “Felt Mountain.”  That was followed in 2003 with the slinky, sultry, almost sleazy electro-clash sound of “Black Cherry.”  In 2006, they morphed that into a pseudo-disco sound on their album “Supernature.” Leader, Alison Goldfrapp’s image has consistently been the public face of the outfit, so it’s easy to forget that Goldfrapp is indeed a duo and not a solo project.  Her-cohort Will Gregory also contributes a great deal to the project even if he is seemingly somewhat camera-shy. One gets the feeling that the two take themselves very seriously.  I remember seeing them perform on late-night television back in 2001 when they were promoting “Felt Mountain” and being struck by the dead-serious look on Alison Goldfrapp’s face.  It was like she had the composure of an opera singer, but instead she was singing chilled-electronica.  It was remarkable.   If she weren’t fronting the duo which shares her name, she could conceivably be a hit on Broadway.  Compared particularly with their last two records, “Seventh Tree” is a much more laid-back affair.  It’s actually quite an orchestral, earthy record relying heavily on acoustics more than synthetics.  It’s a sound which serves them well.  In fact, it sounds like more of a natural fit for them.  After spending two albums successfully mining for club-friendly hits, it’s a return to elegance.    Opening track “Clowns” is a sparse acoustic guitar piece with Alison Goldfrapp singing in a high register.  A string-section rises and falls throughout.  In some places the track almost sounds like it has some Asian influence.  If it weren’t in English, it could easily score a movie like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”  “Little Bird” continues the hushed mode.  Slight electronic touches bleed in, but the track’s tone is still very meditative, until a hard-hitting trip-hop beat enters the picture at the 2:37 mark.  But as the music swells, so does Alison Goldfrapp’s intensity.  “Happiness” is a nice mid-tempo shuffle which at times is reminiscent of Stereolab at their most accessible.  The slight electronic touches punctuate the track rather than holding it up.  The organic feel is still present even with some keyboard elements in place.  “Road to Somewhere” begins with Alison Goldfrapp singing over a loop of ambient tones and then builds nicely.  It’s a peaceful, atmospheric piece.  Something in the instrumentation on “Eat Yourself” recalls Air’s “Alone in Kyoto” from the “Lost in Translation” soundtrack.  In fact, fans of Air’s last two records, “Talkie Walkie” and “Pocket Symphony” should find plenty to love all throughout “Seventh Tree.”  The two acts seem to be aiming in similarly relaxed directions.  “Some People” sounds like a single, or at the very least a movie theme.  It is still on the quiet side, but as it rises, it remains appealing.  You probably aren’t going to see it getting primo exposure in a Target ad like “Fly Me Away” from their last record, but it is at that level.  “A&E” is the actual single.  (For all you cable-television-enthusiasts out there, no, it doesn’t seem to be an ode to the network.) Lush and hushed like the rest of the record, it fully fits the whole picture.  Still very natural sounding with flashy electronic elements subtly embedded into the mix, it is Alison Goldfrapp in beautiful ballad mode.  Ballads are actually her strong-suit.  While she was able to entertain and seduce well doing stickier electro-music, it often sounded cold. Here, her voice is able to stretch and show that it’s a warm instrument.  You can hear the presence of love as she sings. “Cologne, Cerrone Houdini” still keeps the tone of the album intact, but it has some nice string-section accents placed right in the front of the mix.  Have they been listening to Isaac Hayes’ theme to “Shaft?” This is more sedate and stately sounding, but even in this odd-fitting context, such a touch has a slight seventies funk vibe, even if it isn’t all that funky after all.      “Caravan Girl” is the most upbeat track here, and for that reason it stands out.  It sounds like a “Supernature” outtake re-painted with this album’s musical color-scheme.  Alison Goldfrapp’s voice takes over as she quietly harmonizes with herself on the record’s closer, “Monster Love.”  Backed only by an ambient sonic wash, she soars to operatic heights.  Indeed it caps a stunning and beautiful record.  “Seventh Tree” is most definitely a highpoint in Goldfrapp’s career and should please many fans old and new looking for a subtle, yet dramatic record.  This is the kind of album designed to calm a busy mind.  Note: A special edition of the album is available packaged with a bonus DVD with a brief movie and the video for “A&E.”  It comes in a special box along with some post-cards, a poster and a small tablet of lyrics.  The design of the package fits the elegance of the album it holds.

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