The Best Albums of 2013, #7

band01Goldfrapp, Tales of Us

Following the career of the duo of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had as a music fan. Here’s a project that has so consistently surprised listeners time and again with a sound so amorphous, but for all the variety the vision has been clear from the get-go. When you hear a Goldfrapp album you immediately know it’s them, no matter what style they’ve embraced at the moment. The identity has been that intact from day one. They’re not immune to missteps, however, and it’s fair to say the totally sincere, irony-devoid homage to Giorgio Moroder and Olivia Newton-John on 2010’s Head First sailed clear over the heads of many listeners. When two much mellower tracks surfaced on last year’s singles compilation, it was a good indication that another shift in direction was about to happen, and indeed, Goldfrapp returned with a decidedly low-key sixth album. And Tales of Us just might wind up ranking as one of their very best. A collection of ten character sketches all named after their fictional protagonists, it can be described as a combination of the acoustically inclined Seventh Tree and the cinematic orchestration of Felt Mountain, but it’s nowhere near a rip-off of those records. Instead, it’s a dusky mood piece that places Goldfrapp’s beautiful more up front than ever before. Aside from the gently, seductively pulsating “Thea”, these songs go for subtlety, and benefit greatly from immersive listening, because once you open up and let these compositions n completely, the more devastated you’ll be by each track’s quiet sadness. And, might I add, what a cover photo.