Tag Archives: ambient

Felt Mountain

This past Saturday was Record Store Day! Did you get anything? I did!

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The Neko Case LP is limited edition red vinyl and it’s the first time it’s been released on vinyl in over 5 years! Meanwhile, the Goldfrapp LP I got was so exclusive, it’s the first time it’s EVER been released on vinyl in the US and I got one of 4,000 pressings! I was extremely happy to get both of these.

I’ve already talked about Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, so today I’m going to talk about Felt Mountain! This is Goldfrapp’s first album – and it was my first Goldfrapp album. I mentioned before how I was introduced to it via a college roommate. I was hooked the moment I heard the haunting whistle that introduces “Lovely Head.” It still gives me the chills when I hear it. It’s got a very classic Hollywood noir sound to it, a theme which pretty much describes the entire album, but it’s touched with more modern, alien electronic flavors too. This song remains one of my favorites for its haunting beauty. Allison is channeling Marlene Dietrich for sure, but she becomes distinctly Goldfrapp when she sings through a vocal processor at about 1:15. There’s that alienness I mentioned before.

A lot of the lonely, haunted sounds on this album come from the fact that Goldfrapp recorded and produced this album in a bungalow in the English countryside. Allison spent a lot of time alone there, surrounded by mice and spiders. The experience really got under her skin and into her brain, and that’s something that comes through in a way that does the same for you. It’s beautiful but eerie and uneasy too. There’s a touch of danger at times – shadowy figures seen at the edge of your vision, a strange noise in the dark, a light brush against your skin when there’s no one there, a chill running down your spine for no discernible reason.

Being their first album, Felt Mountain isn’t perfect. The next track “Paper Bag,” while nice, is kind of a let down after the amazing track that precedes it. There are some interesting sounds going on, and Allison’s voice is seductive and soothing, but it’s not a stand out track.

“Human” makes up for it. The production on this track is just GREAT. It’s a perfect fusion of classic orchestral sounds and electronic noise. It’s absolutely seductive, even though the lyrics are submissive. It’s begging and full of desire. It’s one of Goldfrapp’s best. I can practically hear it in a Bond film. I’m actually surprised it didn’t make it on their greatest hits album, The Singles, even if they would go on to make better songs.

“Pilots” I think is one of the best of the “quiet” tracks on this album. It’s a very classy and jazzy tune and I like the way that works here. It almost reminds me of a Sinatra song, though I can’t think of which one. There’s another round of singing through the vocal processor that let’s you know it’s definitely Golfrapp. The whole track feels like floating on a cloud – appropriate considering the lyrics and title!

“Deer Stop” is the other great “quiet” track. I can hardly understand the lyrics, but somehow that doesn’t matter here. It’s all about the sound of it. And it sounds like it was recorded in the dark, maybe with a dying flashlight in hand. Maybe you thought you saw the light reflected in pairs of eyes peering out from between the trees, but then they’re gone when you turn back to look for them.

The following two songs are the title track “Felt Mountain” and “Oompa Radar,” both instrumentals with Allison lightly singing nothing over strange noises. The first track is more playful and whimsical. The second is sinister and carnivalesque. Both seem like they could fit into the soundtracks of two very different movies – and yet they fit together on this album wonderfully. The singing is kept to a minimum, which allows you to take them in as aural landscapes. They are cinematic in a way that much of the rest of Felt Mountain is.

Next we come to “Utopia” which is really the one that became the hit off this album. I’ve heard it used in commercials for at least two TV shows in the last several years, so it can be said that it has staying power for sure. It’s the most dramatic track off this album, both in lyrics and in sound. It almost doesn’t belong though. Where the rest of the album has an older, classical sound, “Utopia” seems like it was beamed down by aliens or sent back in time by a future civilization. It’s beautiful, overwhelmingly so, and I think I can see why it’s the one that’s lived the longest. It’s probably the best predictor of the direction Goldfrapp’s sound would head in future endeavors.

The album fades out with “Horse Tears,” which for me is another track that is kind of a let down, seeing as how it follows a much better one. Honestly, “Utopia” could have been the closer, but I guess I can see why they chose this one. It brings the album back full circle to its original lonely, noir themes. Even though it uses a bit of that vocal processor, it just doesn’t do much to save the song. The violin is nice – it punctuates the sadness of this song – but mixed in with everything else going on, it’s all a bit overdone.

Though Felt Mountain has a special place in my heart, it is not a good beginner’s Goldfrapp album! I would not recommend this to a first-time listener! This is one for the more advanced Goldfrapp listener. It’s really great at showing how far they’ve come and seeing what still influences them. Felt Mountain is good, and it even has some SPECTACULAR tracks, but they got so much better. For me, I’m still excited to have this one on vinyl! It’s going to sound great.

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fountain

Well, I was gonna post something else I wrote up earlier today, and then this happened:

What is “this?” This is iamamiwhoami, a Swedish electronic/new wave audio-visual project/band/experience. I realize how pretentious that all sounds, but this single may actually be their most accessible song to date.

iamamiwhoami (the band name and songs are almost always in lower case so I follow suit — it’s pronounced I-am-am-I-who-am-I, by the way. You’re welcome) sprung into existence seemingly from thin air when they began releasing music video snippets on YouTube and emailing them anonymously to music journalists and bloggers in late 2009/early 2010. It took some time before people figured out that the woman in the videos was Swedish singer Jonna Lee, though her North American record company denied any knowledge of her newest project.

After the snippet-teasing phase, iamamiwhoami began releasing videos about monthly as part of their bounty project, available as digital singles throughout 2010. (An actual album release wouldn’t come until three years later.) In 2012, they released a video every other week as part of their kin project, also available as digital singles. An actual album followed pretty much immediately after the project completed though.

iamamiwhoami fans have had about one album/project/something to hold us over per year, so I figured we had to be due for something soon (though I was a little doubtful in wondering if they could keep it up). The question was when, as iamamiwhoami has always shrouded themselves in mystery, releasing new singles or starting new projects without notice. At this point, we can’t even really be sure whether fountain will be a standalone single or the start of a new project. Even in between bounty and kin, for example they released two standalone singles that never went anywhere until they appeared on the bounty album. Nevertheless, the fans (myself included) have pretty much broken out into hysterics like teenagers at a Beatles concert.

The thing about iamamiwhoami is that everything they do is so incredibly deliberate and planned. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were all Type A personality perfectionists. The result is worth it. Their sounds are aural landscapes, so it makes sense that they release a music video with every single.

fountain is no different. In fact, if you haven’t already, I highly recommend watching the video on the highest quality available and in full screen. It’s like being transported to some far away fairy tale land. You half expect to see mermaids leaping out of the water, trolls stomping across the hills, and unicorns running through the woods. Jonna herself looks like the Queen of the North Pole as she navigates her boat through the misty waters. There’s something magical about the way she moves and takes in her surroundings. She tells a story while simultaneously making you wonder what that story is and allowing you to make your own.

The music complements the visuals perfectly. I can see it being used in a 1980’s fantasy movie like Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal. Both the synths and Joanna’s voice are ethereal and otherworldly, like you’re hearing them in a dream. I’ll totally admit that I can’t understand what she’s singing half the time though. Blame that on the reverb effects, I suppose. But it kind of adds to that sense of wonder and dreaminess.

So can you handle the high art musical pretentiousness? If you like artists like Björk, Kate Bush, Florence and the Machine, and maybe even Depeche Mode, then drop all your presumptions and just give it a listen. And a watch. Just…experience it.

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