SILVER EYE by Goldfrapp
Genre: Art Pop, Electropop
Favorite Tracks: “Faux Suede Drifter,” “Zodiac Black,” “Everything is Never Enough,” “Ocean”
Electronic music is first and foremost a robotic, inhuman genre. On one hand, it frees an artist to come up with the strange noises and effects they could never make with real instruments. On the other, it can leave the music feeling separate from any human emotion or individuality, with zero sense of passion or effort hand behind. As a firm believer in passion being the key to great music, I can come across as a musical luddite at times; electronic music often can’t move me emotionally, so it has to move me spatially or kinetically.
Goldfrapp have bounced around the full spectrum of electronic possibility, from commercial-ready indie dance-pop to guitar-driven glam rock to the incorporation of more rustic, organic instrumentation on their folk-tronic TALES OF US. SILVER EYE seems to be the end of that brief flirtation, because it is completely synthetic and presents a blending of the band’s previous efforts into two fairly distinct halves. It starts off as rather boring, somewhat queasy dance music, but it slowly expands into a dark, ambient experience that continuously improves and becomes more haunting and gigantic until the very end.
The first two tracks on SILVER EYE are linear dance-pop with painfully simple drum beats, with no tight melodies to expand on them aside from a quivering bassline on “Systemagic” and a mix of shimmering synths and nauseous, more industrial tones out of a trip-hop record that always seem in conflict with one another. Speaking of trip-hop, Alison Goldfrapp’s singing style reminds me somewhat of Shirley Manson when she would get real close to the microphone and sound like she’s quietly breathing in your ear. However, Manson was sultry and seductive, where Goldfrapp is fey and washed-out a lot of the time, not possessing an aggression to match the more thumping rhythms.
“Tigerman” and “Become the One” are the transition pieces of the album. Though the former still suffers from stilted drums and repetition and the latter has overly demonic vocal harmonies, they showcase a munch more controlled mix and tighter melodies that combine more fully into an atmospheric experience. “Faux Suade Drifter” matches Goldfrapp’s cold vocals with a vacant, starry-eyed soundscape, like brief echoes of noise peeking out from behind the curtain. Rather than moving in a straight line, the music rises up and down like it has a pulse, leading to a trance-inducing experience.
At the halfway mark, something seems to have finally clicked for the duo, because the second half of the record delivers one perfectly composed and executed piece of electroclash after another. Each song rises in intensity, adding in layers of bubbling bass, sharp synth notes, and spastic keyboard bloops over much crisper, steadier percussion. Even the more dancefloor-ready tune “Everything is Never Enough” is a dynamic take on a more kinetic sound and feels so much more energetic and alive than SILVER EYE’s openers. Goldfrapp’s quiet whisper is more unsettling against the massive wall of noise being built around her, with the biggest wall of noise forming on apocalyptic closer and tracklist high-point “Ocean,” which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Garbage’s last record.
Further listens only heightened my enjoyment of SILVER EYE after an initial apathy toward it. It’s funny how after a lukewarm opening the band slowly keeps tinkering with each new song until finally perfecting their craft the second half. With catchiness in the backseat in favor of hypnotic ambience, this moody, melancholic style allows the duo to showcase their compositional talent better than any of their previous records. You won’t find another “Ooh La La” on here, but I think that’s for the better.