New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: goldfrapp

Revisiting One of the Zeros’ Defining Bedroom Albums

Today is all about zeros nostalgia. Since nostalgia is the enemy of history, let’s put this in historical context. Goldfrapp’s third album Supernature came out in 2005. There wasn’t much to celebrate that year, globally speaking. The Bush regime was dropping thousands of tons of depleted uranium on Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and dooming generations to a plague of birth defects. Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg was scheming up ways to turn his campus photoblogging service into the world’s most dangerous surveillance system. But at least Napster was still going strong, opening up a world of music that millions around the world never would have discovered otherwise.

To commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the album’s initial release, it’s been remastered and reissued on green gatefold vinyl, and you can hear it at Spotify. Throughout the record, singer Alison Goldfrapp’s breathy vocals have been left as sultry as they were on the original release, although Will Gregory’s many layers of simple, catchy, playfully psychedelic keys seem more balanced, less dancefloor-oriented than on the cd.

Revisiting the album, the influence of early 80s new wave acts like Missing Persons, Yaz and early Madonna is more vivid than ever. And the songs are a trip, from Ride a White Horse, the duo’s thinly veiled ecstasy anthem, to Number 1, the motorik New Order ripoff that closes the record. In between, the duo’s frontwoman shows off her upper registers in You Never Know (a song that would be autotuned if it was released by a corporate label in 2020), descends to a seductive whisper in the loopy Let It Take You and purrs over the catchy synth bass in Fly Me Away.

Who can forget the cheery, completely deadpan Slide In? If you were around back then, maybe you slid in or smoked up to the woozy, P-Funkesque textures of Coco, the pogo-sticking Satin Chic or the drifty, oscillating Time Out From the World. In the time since, the two have stayed together – and why wouldn’t they? Their New York shows over the past several years have gotten more and more stratospherically expensive.

The album gets extra points for its effectiveness as a weapon to get noisy neighbors to shut up. Played on a sufficiently powerful system, those icy, bassy electronic beats really cut through the the walls and ceiling.

Moody, Goth-Tinged Duo the Smoke Fairies Play a Rare Free Show in Williamsburg

British duo the Smoke Fairies set unpretentious vocals with low-key harmonies to attractive, tersely constructed, subtly orchestrated keyboard melodies with a typically shadowy, nocturnal ambience. A lot of Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire’s songs bring to mind Blonde Redhead at their most darkly shoegazy. The Smoke Fairies have a new self-titled album, their third, streaming at Spotify and a free, full-band show coming up on Sept 1 at Rough Trade in Williamsburg at 7 PM.

It’s a change of pace – is the heavy use of synths and piano this time around an attempt to replicate a mannered, campy Lana Del Rey faux-noir vibe? Happily, no. What most of these songs are is 90s-style trip-hop pop, very cleverly disguised and arranged. There’s more than a hint of classic 70s Britfolk in the vocals, and a nod to 80s goth-pop and darkwave in the background. The opening track, We’ve Seen Birds has the synth imitating a guitar tremolo – “Did you think we could exist like this?” the duo ask enigmatically. Eclipse Them All reaches toward a funeral parlor organ sound with the occasional lingering cry from the guitar – it’s a shot at seductively anthemic, Goldfrapp-style atmospherics.

Shadow Inversions works a more anthemically ghostly ambience, swirling over a simple, rising bassline with distorted, echoey guitars and drums. The slowly vamping Hope Is Religion builds to a hypnotic, Indian-flavored string ambience. Waiting for Something to Begin, a pulsing, angst-ridden escape anthem, blends distant Beatlisms into its nocturnal downtempo groove.

Your Own Silent Movie is another slow, angst-fueled anthem, sort of a mashup of 80s goth-pop and teens chamber pop, the dynamics rising and falling: “Each room of your house a drama you’ve been staging, but I will never let the curtains unfold,” the two insist.

Guest Andy Newmark’s tumbling, artsy drums raise the energy of Misty Versions above by-the-numbers folk noir, building to an icily seductive mix of crackling guitar noise and dreampop vocalese. Drinks and Dancing is hardly the bubbly pop song the title would suggest – instead, it’s a more hi-tech take on torchy, wounded Amanda Thorpe-style balladry. Likewise, Koto is not a Japanese folk song but a simple, tersely crescendoing two-chord trip-hop vamp.

Want It Forever takes an unexpected detour into garage rock, souped up with layers of keys and guitars. The Very Last Time ponders a torrid but impossible relationship that sounds like it was doomed from the start, set to what’s become an expectedly echoey, minor-key, hallucinatory backdrop. The album ends with the haunted, bitter, defeated Are You Crazy,opening as a regretful piano ballad and growing to a swaying, deep-space pulsar ambience. It’ll be interesting to see how much of all this orchestration and atmospheric hocus-pocus the band can replicate onstage.

Trippy Downtempo Atmospherics from Emily Wells

It isn’t every day that someone popular enough to get a Bowery Ballroom gig appears on this page. Then again, not everything that’s popular is stupid. Emily Wells is a prime example. She’s got a new album out, simply titled Mama; her shtick is that she creates intricately trippy, swirling atmospheric pop all by herself on violin, using multiple loops and a million digital effects. Goldfrapp is the obvious comparison, although Wells downplays the vocals here: lyrics and voice take a backseat to the atmospherics. Where Alison Goldfrapp plays a Bond Girl, Wells wears a few faces here, sometimes a come-hither hip-hop vixen, sometimes a country chanteuse, sometimes a goth girl. Whichever direction she goes in, she typically doesn’t go over the top. In most cases, songs based on loops tend to be simple and hypnotic, which makes sense considering that the simpler the underlying riffs or changes are, the less complicated it is to add additional sonic layers on top as they come around again and again – especially if you’re playing them live as Wells does in concert. So there aren’t many surprises here tunewise, in the beginning at least: simple cake, artsy icing. Many of the songs segue into each other here, enhancing the psychedelic feel.

The opening track, Piece of It has Wells’ swaying, surreal muted staccato plucking contrasting with echoey, almost dubwise sustained lines. It gets dreamier and dreamier as the layers of echoey vocals and pinging, high bell-like tones make their way in. Dirty Sneakers and Underwear has shuffling drums and echoey atmospherics which conceal what’s essentially a hip-hop/”R&B” song. It gets creepier and more gothic as it goes along, leaving the pop vibe behind. Sepulchral accordion-like tones and swirly funeral organ pervade Passenger, a trip-hop number, followed by Mama’s Gonna Give You Love, the simplest and most direct track here with its minor-key soul/gospel groove.

Johnny Cash’s Mama’s House is just plain weird, a trip-hop country song with vocal harmonies via a pitch pedal and eventually some rippling banjo – does she play that? Let Your Guard Down goes for a Billie Holiday vocal, the music reaching for a lush late 60s/early 70s orchestrated soul atmosphere that picks up with genuine majesty as the drums rumble and crash. Fire Song has an only slightly restrained ornateness, like something off the live, orchestrated Portishead album: it’s the most overtly classical piece of music here. The last three tracks are a woozy, dubwise trip-hop tune with blippy horn-like patches flitting through the mix; a trip-hop take on delta blues (that actually works!!); and an echoey stab at Nashville gothic.

Who is the audience for this? People who like to end the day with a blunt; fans of dub and trip-hop; and probably because of marketing, trendoids. That seems to be the audience she’s been targeted to, and that’s too bad, because it would be sad if she ended up ghettoized with the rest of the wannabes in the Pitchfork crowd.