Wednesday, April 8, 2009

April 8: Goldfrapp, "Felt Mountain"

Artist: Goldfrapp
Album: Felt Mountain
Year: 2000
Label: Mute

Often times, so called "backing vocalists" find themselves persistently stuck in said role and never achieve individual success. The reality is, on many occasions, these backing vocalists have talent far superior to that of the main performer. Having contributed vocal work to artists like Tricky, Orbital, and many others, the brilliant voice of Allison Goldfrapp was well known in music circles. Known for creating almost cinematic musical works, her demos were well traveled in the U.K. electronic underground. Combining her voice and musical ideas with producer and arranger Will Gregory, the duo took on Allison's last name as the name of their collaboration. After a few months of work together, Goldfrapp released their debut, 2000's Felt Mountain; and it is nothing short of a sonic masterpiece.

As soon as she first appeared on records as a backing vocalist, Allison Goldfrapp began building an underground legion of fans. Having already worked as a singer and composer, Allison studied fine art at Middlesex University, and the people whom she met through the program would help her to worldwide fame. Her work with the groups mentioned above occurred whilst she was still a student, and after getting her degree, she toured the world with both Tricky and Orbital, exposing her sound to the masses. Her partner in Goldfrapp, Will Gregory, honed his skills throughout the 1980's with the likes of The Cure, Peter Gabirel, and Tears For Fears. Having already worked with Portishead and Tori Amos, his aptitude in creating lush, ambient landscapes, as well as perfecting production on female vocals meshed perfectly with Allison's skills and vision.

Pulling clear influences from everything ranging from pop to folk to electronic, Goldfrapp presents a brilliant array of musical textures throughout Felt Mountain. Combining live horns, strings, and drums with programmed beats and samples, the sonic landscape that Goldfrapp creates is nothing short of breathtaking. At times, the music sounds as if it were created for a sci-fi or spy movie ("Utopia" would fit perfectly in the Doctor Who episode of the same name), and the music is often as intriguing as Allison's vocal work. From whimsical instrumentals like "Oompa Radar" (which musically REALLLLLY sounds like an electronic version of Stone Temple Pilots' "Pretty Penny") to Felt Mountain's spacey, lush title track, the record shows a wonderful diversity, yet is a cohesive ambient record through and through.

Regardless of the music and programming on the tracks, there is little doubt that the most impressive aspect of Goldfrapp's music is Allison's voice. Terms like "gorgeous" and "smooth" simply do not do justice to how amazingly serene a voice she possesses. Truthfully, there are many points on Felt Mountain when the vocals that Allison delivers are nothing short of unearthly, in a good way. Able to run the entire musical range, she tends to stay in a sultry alto range, delivering vocals that range from sensual to jazzy to almost bewitching. Whether a mellow, bluesy song like "Pilots," belting out a song like "Human," or singing what is nearly a lullaby ("Deer Stop,") Allison's vocal talents rise far above any and all of her peers. Words honestly cannot describe how awe inspiring the vocal work is throughout Felt Mountain, and Allison Goldfrapp's voice must be experienced to be able to fully appreciate the grandeur and prowess that lies within.

Combining the sensational vocals with the flawless musical textures, the songs on Felt Mountain range from avant to romantic to somewhat eerie, showing the extraordinary creativeness that lives in the duo of Goldfrapp. While such diversity is often the downfall of bands within the "ambient/electronic" genre, Goldfrapp executes each style without fault, and the record remains a quintessential album for the genre. Perfectly pairing live and programmed instrumentation, and topping it off with the sensational vocals of Allison Goldfrapp, the duo have released four equally impressive albums since forming in the late 1990's. Though they have yet to make a "bad" record, their 2000 debut, Felt Mountain, is a showstopping introduction to their sound, and should be a part of every music collection.

Standout tracks: "Lovely Head," "Human," and "Horse Tears."

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