Allison Goldfrapp caught the attention of ambient techno-heads The Orbital after they saw one of her first performance-art pieces — she sang while milking a cow. After contributing vocals to their album, “Snivilization” (1994), she collaborated the following year with dark-hop overlord Tricky on his solo debut, “Maxinquaye.” Then in 1999, using her surname for the band, Goldfrapp and her musical partner, Will Gregory, signed with Mute records.
Gregory’s arrangement and woodwind work for The Cure, Spiritualized, Peter Gabriel and Portishead made him the perfect choice for scoring the atmospheric snowscapes of their debut, “Felt Mountain,” on which Goldfrapp’s vaporous vocals curled sensually around the cinematic strings and trip-hop beats. It could have been the soundtrack of an alpine espionage flick composed by Henry Mancini, Ennio Morricone and Massive Attack.
With their sophomore effort “Black Cherry,” Goldfrapp sheds the skintight lederhosen for the vinyl pants, frizzy hair and off-the-shoulder style of ’80s synth-pop. It’s a dramatic turn that will surely confuse (and anger) some fans — especially with its suspect timing. The fusion of punk, new wave and disco known as “electroclash” is just finishing a victory lap across America and Europe, so it would be easy to dismiss “Black Cherry” as opportunistic. Goldfrapp, however, separates herself from electroclash by trading in most of its sonic shock value and trashy eroticism for sultry vocals and actual melodies. She pouts and coos with Lolita-like aplomb through the darker numbers, but the syrupy symphonic samples found in the creamy center of “Black Cherry” reveal the same spy-novel ambience that made “Felt Mountain” so engaging. “Hairy Trees” is sung at a near whisper, while the title track is a smoldering, bleep-and-blip torch song.
For their performance at this year’s Fuji Rock Festival, Goldfrapp will surely concentrate on the throb-and-thrust bass lines of such tracks as “Strict Machine,” “Slippage” and “Train.” They all guarantee a copious flow of sweet sweat during hot summer nights. Let it drip.
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