September 15, 2005

Icy Enchantress

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When trip-hop first began to blossom in the early ’90s, it was already branching out in many diverging directions – from the spooky, soulful crooning of Beth Gibbons in Portishead to the ambient pop leanings of Air to the downtempo jazz of Kruder & Dorfmeister. Despite the different atmospheres many of these pioneers were developing, Allison Goldfrapp, a fine art painting major in college at the time, emerged as an enigmatic figure whose icy vocals worked for a variety of trip-hop styles. During this time, Goldfrapp appeared on Tricky’s landmark Maxinquaye, Orbital’s Snivilisation and Add N to (X)’s Avant Hard. But it wasn’t until her gorgeous 2000 debut, Felt Mountain that her magic truly made itself evident.

My favorite album (so far) of the decade, Felt Mountain shows Allison Goldfrapp to be one of the true visionaries in contemporary music. And like most original visions, that which Goldfrapp expresses on the album is difficult to portray in words. Goldfrapp described it once as the image of a wolf being whipped in a Tudor house on a snowy plain, and I am inclined to agree. Felt Mountain builds an utterly unique atmosphere, yet one that seems to have always existed, as if part of our collective unconsciousness or something.

From the moment the album begins with the indelible shrieking horns on “Lovely Head,” it’s clear that this enchanting siren is bringing us to another world. A mysterious quivering whistle follows before Goldfrapp’s chilling cabaret vocals are introduced: “It starts in my belly / Then up to my heart / Into my mouth / I can’t keep it shut / Do you recognize the smell / Is that how you tell / Us apart.” A theremin that seems to be screaming with agony then elucidates her feelings.

More than anything, what brings Felt Mountain to its heights is the production. The album is similar to many other trip-hop albums with its John Barry spy film motif, but Goldfrapp and co-producer Will Gregory build up a sweeping cinematic atmosphere unlike any movie you’ve ever seen.

While the atmosphere created is cold and bleak, its beauty seeps through. And by the time the song closes with her singing “your lovely head” over and over, I find myself haunted and in love.

Archived article by Jared Wolfe
Sun Staff Writer