Goldfrapp – Felt Mountain (2000)

It was 2001, if I recall properly (which is by no means a guarantee). I was in a strange town, beset by many adolescent insecurities and internal abysses, as teens are wont to be. In the span of three days, I’d lost a crush, I’d been confessed another, and I’d discovered Goldfrapp; the music won in the end. It’s still with me today, just as moving, just as jarring.

goldfrappGoldfrapp is a musical duo from England, much better known for their subsequent albums, which adopt a more dance oriented aesthetic and a more flamboyant theatrical presentation. Alison Goldfrapp can be a true diva, in the original sense of the word – a self-created image of a performer, a studied and contrived full-body mask to be worn on stage and to be projected through song. She’s the voice of the duo, and along with Will Gregory, they have been running up and down the scale from chic to silly countless times in the past decade, sometimes with a huge emphasis on sexuality distilled as sound, other times with the “gone with the fairies” vibe of neopagan trappings. Goldfrapp is nothing if not a constant process of reinvention, which allows them to flirt with mainstream success (when I say flirt, I actually mean “make out on top of the most popular club in London’s wall of speakers for the whole world to see”) and allow themselves the freedom to be genuinely artistic and capable of ushering heartbreaking beauty into the world with their music.

If elegance and oddness could sing, Felt Mountain would be their lullaby. This was Goldfrapp before the horse-tails worn on stage, before the squad of bikini-clad demoiselles with wolves’ heads on. This was a more stylized, subtle concept. Alison and Will had just decided to take the plunge and work together, and their working conditions were dire – a cottage in England, beset by vermin and insects crawling up the walls. I’m sure that contributed somewhat to the wartime-like elegance, melancholy and sophistication of their music. Felt Mountain sounds like it’s comprised of memories of a better time, trickling down into music like water on the wall – painfully, ominously.

There’s a Bond soundtrack vibe to many of these songs, and a surreal ripple reminiscent of Combustible Edison’s borderline “demon circus” musings. Felt Mountain is an album of seduction with dark shines, a retro-futuristic film noir of a record, a mind bending journey through beautiful malaise. The only other outfit I know who could incite the same sort of bittersweet defeat when faced with their music is Portishead, who had just went on their epic hiatus when Felt Mountain was released. It is merely a vague stylistic connection, and more than anything a personal impression – Goldfrapp have an entirely different set of resident obsessions and references.

This music is so evocative and burrows so deep that the 2001 story introduction I made to this article has been clad in the sounds of Goldfrapp’s Utopia song ever since, sparking poetry, fascination, endless conversations and goose-bump inducing remembrance ever since; music entwined with identity. If you, dearest readers, haven’t listened to Felt Mountain, I hope my recommendation can nudge you to do so. Truly, it is a thing to enjoy.

Fiordmoss – Interview

ZaRecords has been silent for a long time now, I know, and I’m sorry about that. It’s only because I was really caught up in finishing up my studies – final exams, writing my BA thesis and all the bureaucracy that goes with it took up so much of my time and energy that I simply couldn’t focus on writing much of anything else. But all is well that ends well, and I’m happy to announce the triumphant return of ZaRecords, with an interview of Czech band Fiordmoss. I wrote about these guys before – I saw them live for the first time and they really left me breathless. I’m really happy they found the time to answer some of my questions and I hope you’ll like what you read and the accompanying music! Most if not all questions were answered by Petra. Welcome back!

FiordmossZaRecords: First of all, tell me what your name means, how and why did you choose it?

Fiordmoss: It is a long time since we made this up. It was supposed to describe contrasts of our musical backgrounds. We translated this into nature and landscapes that we liked which happened to be fjords, forests and moss at the time. Today we’re closer to tribes, churches and taiga.

ZR: There’s a burning question on my mind, so I’ll get right to it. Please don’t take this the wrong way but, having been lucky enough to hear you play live, I have to say your songs sound very different live than on the album – both versions are amazing, but your attitude towards the songs seems to be very different in the live environment… Which context do you prefer, which do you feel feeds your creativity more?

Fiordmoss: We treat them differently because you hear different things in both settings. Album production can take more details and other things that would not be strong or even audible live. Some things just have to go and they get replaced. It also isn’t fun to reproduce live exactly what you can hear on the album, the songs have their own life and sometimes change naturally according to what we currently feel is our sound. For example Tigermy, one of our first songs that we still play, changed more times than we can count.

ZR: Do you guys have other creative outlets alongside your music? You seem both very visually oriented and very poetic.

Fiordmoss: We’re very much into anything visual. The two founding members have an art school background so naturally there is also something to see. Through Facebook we’ll be soon publishing excerpts of Petra’s photographic series that we feel are somehow related to Fiordmoss.

ZR: How do you compose, how do your songs get born? Is it democratic, slow, painful?

Fiordmoss: It is everything and nothing. Sometimes it really is very slow and painful because we’re very strict in what goes and what doesn’t. There is a lot of waiting in between, waiting for the one moment from which it will all go very fast.

ZR: Do you feel part of a community, a musical “wave” coming together? I ask because I feel that, maybe for the first time since the ’90s, I feel there might be a powerful “movement” emerging in music.

Fiordmoss: We try to do our thing and often it doesn’t fit into trends that are currently around. This makes it harder for us to instantly reach large audience but at the same time the people that find our music rarely leave us. There is a lot of bands that come and go, change their names and genre every three years. Even though it means we’re not always cool, we’re staying away from this because it creates no permanent value. But I must admit it is a good feeling when we find ourselves in a setting where we belong.

ZR: You seem to find inspiration in numerous, sometimes quite random, sometimes quite macabre stories. Tell me a story from the road, something you took back with you from your travels.

Fiordmoss: For example driving through Romania was quite insane and sometimes macabre, too. What goes on tour stays on tour, though!

ZR: Are you planning a full-scale release in your future, or do you want to stick to the EP format? Do you feel that releasing fewer tracks at a time puts less pressure on you as a band, or are there other reasons? I ask out of pure curiosity, but also because I’m really hungry for more of your music.

Fiordmoss: We released EPs because the songs we had already created a unit and we didn’t feel like pushing it somewhere else. In fact releasing only EPs creates this pressure because you get asked all the time when the full-length finally comes. But we feel like it’s time now. It wasn’t before. In the summer, there will be a single from the album coming out with a video by Elvira Bukowski whom we met in Berlin, where we live now. The rest is in the stars.

ZR: I see you’re present on Bandcamp and so on. Are you self-released? What’s your relationship with the industry, record labels etc.?

Fiordmoss: So far yes, we are self-released. We do want to release on a label someday but as of now we’re more concerned with the music itself than with our relationship with the industry.

ZR: Your live performance was very theatrical, you move in a very expressive way, much like a dancing actress. Do you have a background in the dramatic arts?

Fiordmoss: No, nothing like that but I very much like to dance.

Fiordmoss Ink BittenZR: “Ink Bitten” is a great name for a record! How did you come up with it?

Fiordmoss: I was obviously obsessed with tattoo ladies at the time, which influenced the whole record. I was reading a lot about their personal stories and this came up while working on lyrics for Maud. Just how, I do not know.

ZR: Thank you so much for your time! I can hardly wait to hear new music from you guys!

Fiordmoss: Thank you for your questions and kind words!

 

Walking Papers – Walking Papers (2012)

Here’s one of the most impressive bands I’ve heard in a while, even though I can’t shake a slight feeling of deja-vu when I hear them. It might just have to do with the fact that Walking Papers is basically a supergroup, formed by members of The Screaming Trees, The Missionary Position, Guns’n’Roses, with contributions from Mike McCready (the guitarist from Pearl Jam). The blending of styles and backgrounds is so seamless, pleasant and so familiar, I suppose it’s no surprise it made me feel like “good old rock’n’roll” found a new avatar in these guys.

Walking Papers

I was a big fan of Guns’n’Roses when I was a kid, they were my entry into “rock music” (which meant anything from glam to grunge to metal for the ten-year-old me), and Slash’s subsequent projects produced some of my favorite tracks and albums ever, so I was delighted to learn that former Guns bass player, Duff McKagan joined this band. There seems to be a bit of a trend going around with these old icons joining new outfits – Black Country Communion, Them Crooked Vultures and now Walking Papers are all great examples. Out of the above-mentioned bands though, I believe Walking Papers take the cake – there’s a wonderful cohesion in the band, a well-tempered maturity, and the groove just breaks out at the seams of every song.

There really isn’t very much critiquing I wanna do for Walking Papers – this kind of music is really supposed to be visceral, absorbed through the muscles as well as the ears, and there really isn’t very much words can to do make that process happen for someone who isn’t feeling it. There’s gritty blues, fat keyboards, meaty rhythms, fierce and unsophisticated guitars and one hell of a voice to bring it all together. There’s a hefty bit of political commentary in some of the lyrics, but not so much that it becomes annoying. Here’s a list of things that aren’t new about Walking Papers: themes, song structure, sound, lyrics, group dynamic. You know what? It doesn’t matter – the band is tremendous and the songs will get stuck in your head for days. You’ll want to drive to this music, run, train at the gym, you’ll want to start a band of your own and make it sound just like this, because there is absolutely nothing more that can be demanded from rock’n’roll.

They don’t have videos, and most of the performances I found on YouTube are live, so I’ll limit the selection to one long video from KEXP, because it’s a very good live show, and the sound quality is perfect. Enjoy!

Reptar – Thank You Gliese 370 b (2012)

You’ll say I’ve gone space-crazy, but here I am again with a song inspired by the new conquests of astronomy. “Gliese 370 b” is one name for the third planet we have found which appears to be in the “Goldielocks” zone of its star – that is to say, the zone in which liquid water could exist. Its other name is “HD 85512 b”, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily and is massively more difficult to sing. Reptar are a band I’ve come across thanks to the amazing KEXP radio YouTube channel (one of many, I highly recommend subscribing), and this song has stuck with me ever since – it’s infectious, upbeat, trippy and just plain fun! Enjoy!

Radiohead – Live from The Basement (2008)

The only reason I haven’t written more about Radiohead since I started this blog is that I’m intimidated by the task, as I believe most would-be and even well-established critics should be. To add to that marble-hard knot in my throat when it comes to their records, their live performances are often even more striking, even more dazzling, in that ever-so-understated way of theirs. This is the full live show of the In Rainbows album, the one I’ve listened to the most out of their discography. Of that which is unspeakable, one must remain silent. Enjoy.