Goldfrapp – Felt Mountain (2000): Review

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Produced by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp
Label – Mute

The debut album from London chanteuse Alison Goldfrapp and her closely selected musical cohorts was a confident extension of her previous recording experiences. Having provided vocals for trip hop rapper Tricky, and trance/techno whizz kids Orbital, it seemed an unsurprising progression to deliver her own brand of film noir cinematics, and stylised electronica inspired by Sergio Leone, John Barry and Roy Budd. Will Gregory provides the moody keyboards and orchestral arrangements to complement the seductive vocals. Critics will often cite Portishead’s Beth Gibbons and Shirley Bassey for comparisons, and although Goldfrapp has a wide ranging soprano, she neither carries the raw emotion of Gibbons or the show time melodrama of Bassey. Often Gregory uses instrumental manipulation to enhance her voice and develop otherworldly cries that in most cases give the songs a chilling originality. As debut performances go, it’s a confidently focussed affair, like a soundtrack to a classy European 60s art house movie. The emphasis is strongly guided towards an all enveloping textured journey, rather than the simplicity of catchy melodies.

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There’s plenty to admire, although the collection is patchy towards the close; too tied up in a sombre landscape that becomes increasingly unwieldy in both tone and particularly tempo. That said, the opener (“Lovely Head”), with its haunting whistled melody and 70s detective show theme harpsichord draws one in to its chilling aura. The icy dynamics continue with “Paper Bags” and pull to Goldfrapp’s ambiguous, sometimes bizarre lines, with “No time to fuck, but you like the rush, and where would we be without sums? There are certainly moments where the instrumental melancholia becomes thoroughly maudlin (“Deer Stop”), even ridiculous, as on the ugly Bavarian influenced “Oompa Radar”. But that’s tempered when the star quality melodies are to the fore with “Pilots” and the sensational anthem to a seemingly glorious sci-fi world, “Utopia”. Most critics firmly believe that “Felt Mountain” is Goldfrapp’s critical peak. No doubt it’s classy, with few major flaws, but the decision to move towards dance/electro and glam for the follow up recordings were significantly more rewarding for the listener.

“Felt Mountain” is a work of considered ingenuity, refined production, and delicate application. It is nine statements of a style that had been richly trawled throughout the decade and was certainly running out of steam. The decision to invest their efforts in other genres was wholly correct.

7/10

Track Rating
1 – Lovely Head (7)
2 – Paper Bag (7)
3 – Human (7)
4 – Pilots (8)
5 – Deer Stop (5)
6 – Felt Mountain (6)
7 – Oompa Radar (5)
8 – Utopia (9)
9 – Horse Tears (6)

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