“Seventh” heaven

Pub date September 17, 2008
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

› kimberly@sfbg.com

If you loose your tethers to terra firma and let yourself drift with the hallucinatory swirl of fireside Anglo folk, violin-swept electronic beats, and the dulcet sighs on Goldfrapp’s fourth album, Seventh Tree (Mute), you won’t be surprised to learn that vocalist Alison Goldfrapp plucked the disc’s name from a dream. "I can’t argue with that, I thought when I woke up," Goldfrapp says from London during a brief break from the group’s current tour. And the dream itself? "It was a beautiful tree," she recalls. "It all felt amazing and wonderful, and it had a ‘seven’ on it, and then I was in a women’s spa, a Roman bath, and it was very steamy. I was asking people about the title and giving them all the titles I had, and they were going, ‘No, no, that’s wrong. You’ve got to call it Seventh Tree.’<0x2009>"

Sounds like the kind of certainty that you should never buck, and you can practically hear Goldfrapp nodding over the line "You know, when they come and advise … " before she breaks the oracular mood with a dose of levity. "I had too much curry that evening — that’s what I put that down to."

Picturing the ethereal blond in the throes of Indian grub-powered inspiration puts an entirely new wrinkle in Goldfrapp’s intense, synthetic dreamscapes. "Folktronica" isn’t quite the term for what the startlingly grounded singer and collaborator Will Gregory conjure with Seventh Tree: a recording that elegantly marries the groovy Serge Gainsbourg–ian Euro-funk ("Little Bird") with sometimes stonily spare ("Eat Yourself") and occasionally majestic John Barry–imbued orchestrations ("Road to Somewhere") — the latter a combination that might occur within a single song ("Clowns"). The album marked a dramatic shift from the duo’s last full-length, Supernature (Mute, 2005), but then, Goldfrapp never promised you the certainty of a glittering disco ball spinning round. For this record, the pair began to write songs for the first time solely on guitar, and Goldfrapp found inspiration in the quality of light and lyrical fatalism of 1970s road-trip films like Badlands, in addition to popular reference point Wickerman. "I thought about American films — the hazy sunshine, kind of Californian," she muses. "The road trip is significant as a kind of rite of passage, and it feels opportunistic, but there’s always a sense of doom as well."

Writing music for film is one opportunity Goldfrapp would love to grasp, but she also wants to compose for a choir. "Making music is an endless world of possibility," she says. "The future is unknown." But for now, all too soon, it’ll be back to that eternal road, which Goldfrapp will undertake without Gregory. "Will doesn’t tour — he can’t fit in the bunk beds, and I’m not crazy about it either!" she exclaims while simultaneously bemoaning the current drizzly gray of London. "I love playing, but touring is exhausting. I wish I could transport myself from place to place." At least she’ll be trailing that California sunlight soon.

Goldfrapp performs at 5:50 p.m., Sat/20, on the Bridge Stage at Treasure Island Music Festival.