A prologue to Tales of Us: A foggy creek lies ahead, dragonflies buzz in your ear, and as you tiptoe to the water’s edge, vibrant colors swirl around like melted Crayola crayons. Suddenly, there’s a prick at your nose and a fairy-like creature whizzes by giggling and taunting. Bottom line: You’re not in Kansas anymore; you’re in a quixotic fantasy designed and governed by Goldfrapp.
By far the duo’s most intimate and lavish recording to date, Tales of Us offers up a gateway into the mind of Alison Goldfrapp as she takes listeners to her innermost fears. Influenced by cinema and a fascination for the fantastical, the London outfit’s sixth studio album washes away their signature electronic disco for a complex mesh between trip-hop and lounge. Gooey electronic lulls drench the album’s morose narrative of war, failed romance, hallucinations, murder, betrayal, and folklore. All but one song on the album is named in the first person (“Stranger”), and most of the lyrics are spent juxtaposing poetry against evocative character sketches. It’s a strange, if not an intriguing, musical ellipsis for them.
In abrupt gasps, the album retreats to the sweeter melodies of their 2000 debut, Felt Mountain, but these are few if even recognizable. Instead, the tracks exude the intensity of a sweaty fever dream, drawing on rusty thoughts and macabre experiences. Early track “Annabel” captures this feeling to precision. The track’s wavering coos and distant guitar melodies fly through the dense forests of Twin Peaks, only to make its way to the terrifying halls of The Shining‘s Overlook Hotel. As Goldfrapp murmurs, “Oh the sense of you/ when we’re alone I’m free/ until the morning comes who are we,” she instills a maddening sense of malaise that wrings this album dry.
With every twist and turn, Tales of Us grows stronger in narrative and composition, though it comes at the cost of being patient. It’s a thought-provoking morning record, saved for the hours just before dawn, when everything’s still, life only dwells, and fantasies feel comparable. On “Stranger”, Goldfrapp continues to search for love, singing: “There then gone/ do or die/ stranger I dream of you/ and stranger I will never know.” It sounds as if she’s in the same place, but she’s not. The album’s an impressive new beginning for the singer, and while she doesn’t quite get there 100%, she’s at least entertained the idea that this place is no fantasy.
Essential Tracks: “Annabel”, “Stranger”