Goldfrapp

Felt Mountain (Mute)

Truly original albums are pretty thin on the ground these days. Everything has a genre, everything has a formula, usually in the form of a very tight, narrow sandbox in which steroidal young men fling themselves about and complain about their mommies. Poor dears . . .

Once again, pop music has painted itself into a corner (and please, don't argue that it isn't pop music -- if it sells by the shedloads, it's popular. It's not big, it's not clever, and it certainly isn't "street" -- if you're a loss leader at Best Buy, that's about as corporate as you can get -- but it is pop). Worry not, lonely lovers and lank-haired girls. These dark days have been upon us before, and they only succeed in making us work harder. Again and again, we have to ask the important question: What is music supposed to do? If you feel shut out by the world, that your hormones are without meaning and you want to break things, then get in that sandbox -- you've got lots of company. If you're looking for an emotional release beyond the two-note vocabulary of resentment and rage, you are going to have to start digging. If you want to go beyond resentment, rage and sex, you're going to have to get out the big shovel. If you want emotional exploration, you know you'll need a lot less space on your CD shelf, and if you are looking for sounds that you've never heard, or never heard rearranged in such a way, you are on a mission that is fraught with danger and disappointment. Don't worry, Gentle Reader; our diamonds shine more fiercely for their rarity.

Because of this, Goldfrapp is not for everybody. You will not put this in your player and hear something familiar. You will not feel safe. You will either a) be irritated and annoyed, because this is not Music My Familiar Companion, or b) you will be enthralled because this is Strange Music That Came From Nowhere and Is Demanding All of Your Attention and Intelligence.

And gives something back. It's actually capable of re-imagining the aural world, the sonic vocabulary of pop music, and that is the greatest gift that pop music can give -- a set of fresh ears and a restored sense of wonder. Christ, isn't that what it's supposed to do? When did we become so lazy, so undemanding?

Goldfrapp is a collaboration between composer, vocalist, whistler (!) and keyboardist Alison Goldfrapp and composer/filmmaker Will Gregory, and Felt Mountain is the product of five months' seclusion in a home-built studio bungalow in the English countryside. The record is almost impossible to describe -- a synthesis of '60s French pop and Germany between the wars, European avant-garde and old James Bond soundtracks. There's something strangely alpine going on here -- a perfect winter record. Conventional instruments mix with fractured left-field electronics in a place where bittersweet melodies collide with eruptions of noise, all to heighten the drama. This is 21st Century Noir; music big enough for the wide screen. Listening, you could almost imagine this collaboration as a sonic relationship, intoxicating rushes of emotion, always veering between overwhelming elation and shattering heartbreak, as any great cinematic relationship should.

It puts to shame much of the gilded shit that currently passes for music. Imagine if Lee Hazelwood had a sampler. If John Barry could get all postmodern. If The Sound of Musichad a trap door to a Weimar cabaret and the rigid Colonel Von Trapp were Bertolt Brecht and Julie Andrews were Sally Bowles. If Bacharach could forget about the charts. If tap water were absinthe. If, if, if . . . if you could describe music, then it wouldn't be music, would it?

Close your eyes and hear how a flügelhorn can make perfect sense next to a stylophone before you file it under Art Wank. This is not a record for everybody. Indeed, these are dark days, Brothers and Sisters, but some of us can see through the apocalypse of mundane anger. Some of us can hear the drama in the dark.

 
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