Goldfrapp has always been about juxtaposition with their signature breathy vocals over poppy synths and European disco influences, but its new album and accompanying film contrast their entire career as well as standard definitions of live performance and music videos. Goldfrapp is well known for their more dance-y “Supernature” and “Head First,” both of which received Grammy nominations for Best Dance/Electronica Album, but “Tales of Us” reveals a much more personal side of the group, this time on the big screen.
“Tales of Us,” released September of last year, is the sixth album by the British duo Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory. The tracks are much more mysterious with their restrained delivery, driving finger-picked anxiety into compliance rather than relief. The film anthology co-created by Ms. Goldfrapp and filmmaker Lisa Gunning was shown in several exclusive theaters earlier this month, followed by a live performance. A recording of the compound film/performance was played in several more cities March 25, including downtown Phoenix’s FilmBar and AMC Arizona Center 24.
The film spans 30 minutes with five sections following folky yet atmospheric human manifestation of the album’s Stranger, Laurel, Jo, Drew and Annabel. Equal parts Tom Ford and David Lynch, in every matter from questioning sexual tension and identity to strippers and violent deaths on the forlorn oceanside, this impressionistic film demonstrates Goldfrapp’s transubstantiation into deep self-expression.
The pseudo-erotic film seamlessly transitions into a live performance of the rest of the album with Ms. Goldfrapp in a studio filled with Cirque du Soleil-esque props and projections of film clips and psychedelia overlaying her and the accompanying band. The set starts out with the same restraint present in the film but slowly evolves into what could have been an Ennio Morricone written opera to a Hitchcock film in space with modern renditions of Goldfrapp’s earlier trip-hop jams “Lovely Head” and “Utopia” off their debut “Felt Mountain.” As the energy builds with the live band switching to mostly guitars and synths over string accompaniment, Ms. Goldfrapp walks off stage onto a backdrop of mirrored projections for a solo performance of “Tales of Us” most banging piece “Thea.” Following this break from reality, Goldfrapp builds their more subtle “folktronic” piece “Little Bird” off “Seventh Tree” into what might as well have been a Godspeed You! Black Emperor cover of any Beatles song. This is before finishing up with synth-pop hits “Train” and “Strict Machine”.
Goldfrapp’s “Tales of Us” in theaters presents viewers with a unique experience. It’s a music video, short film and live concert cleverly packaged into a single multimedia exhibition. While many might think a broadcasted concert takes away from the intimate and primal experience of witnessing it in person, Goldfrapp utilizes the situation to present a much more private experience for the listener. In between several songs Ms. Goldfrapp addresses the audience in theater as if she were directly near them, acknowledging this very alien performance with a sense of metacognition and rapport similar to that of a late-night talk show host.
Most of the material in the film and concert isn’t exactly something you would dance to (maybe slow dance), so it makes sense to be sitting in an oversized, comfortable chair in deep introspection as a woman chokes another to death before some naked men run into the agape countryside to fly RC airplanes. And if it were in the form of a concert, the performance would have had too many attendees for anyone to get a close enough look at Ms. Goldfrapp’s exasperated face as she hits sustained operatic cries. These fresh wrinkles around her mouth even play a substantial part in the film’s story.
Goldfrapp shows us the future of performance by demanding our attention in a digital age flooded with simulacra. Rather than dancing to Goldfrapp’s sweaty hits and clicking through their ad-infested YouTube channel, one is sitting in a cold theater being told an unskippable side of a story exclusive to its multifaceted medium. No concert can have as much expressional imagery, no music video the raw instinct of being face-to-face.
Goldfrapp’s “Tales of Us” film and broadcasted performance will play one more time at FilmBar and AMC Arizona Center 24 at 8 p.m. on Thursday.
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