With a weird warping sound, Felt Mountain kicks off with Goldfrapp‘s beautiful debut single Lovely Head. Ostensibly, it’s about genetic engineering, but somehow on an album this soft and sublime, it’s a glorious piece full of melancholic theremin and bizarre vocals.
Felt Mountain was Goldfrapp‘s first album, and is definitely one of their best. From out of nowhere, fifteen years ago, they appeared – the artist and the reclusive musician, with a work firmly seated in the Alps. There’s even a painting of the Matterhorn on the back cover.
As was clear from the first track, the Alpine setting isn’t all snow and beautiful views, and even Paper Bag has its sinister side. This time, it manifests itself more clearly through the music, as the often indecipherable vocals paint a vivid wintry picture.
Felt Mountain is short, and only contains nine tracks, so the singles come thick and fast. Third single Human is next, with a fascinating vocal style and curious backing that treads the line between experimental and orchestral. Then the final single Pilots, which is truly beautiful, and was also accompanied by a particularly memorable video of people on scooters in an airport.
The first few tracks were hardly uptempo, but the next few tracks slow things down even further. Deer Stop is gentle in the extreme, a dramatic piece with piano, strings, and an entirely incomprehensible freeform vocal performance. Then comes the title track Felt Mountain, with its yodelling and frankly enormous bass. Then the totally bizarre Oompa Radar, gently poking fun at Germanic folk music. When the cuckoo clock turns up, you realise just how magical this album is – if you’re not captivated by this stage, you really have no soul.
Second single Utopia comes next, the closest this album ever really comes to doing “pop” music. You’ll be nodding your head in no time, as the plucked strings and vintage synths start to swell. If you’ll excuse the superlatives, this is truly exquisite.
Felt Mountain closes with Horse Tears, another of the more dramatic pieces on here, with dramatic and meaningful pauses. Throughout the album, you get the feeling that the lyrics are there more to cast a mood than to say anything specific, but in the context of this album that works brilliantly.
While they found their feet, it would be nearly three years until 2003’s Black Cherry. But until then, Goldfrapp‘s debut album is one of finest and most unexpected introductions that has turned up in the last couple of decades. If you don’t have a copy, track one down, and your world will seem a much better place.
If you can still find the limited edition double CD, definitely go for that – otherwise the original release of Felt Mountain can be found here.