Goldfrapp and Big Active's Seventh Tree Design Coup
Those who helped themselves to Seventh Tree, the just-released fourth album by English pop duo Goldfrapp, when it leaked onto the internet last year as well as those who pre-ordered it on iTunes should consider picking up the deluxe-edition CD version of the album. Singer Alison Goldfrapp and hot London-based firm Big Active have created packaging that argues powerfully for the continuing importance of design to the pop-music experience.
In addition to the ten-track album (more on that below), the box of goodies, crafted from mottled woven paper, contains a DVD with a short film and a music video, a fold-out poster, four postcards featuring photography by Serge Leblon, and a little notebook replica with handwritten lyrics and doodles from Alison. The range of materials allows the listener to trace the development of Goldfrapp's visual ideas from sketchbook to photo shoot. The intimacy of this approach only enhances Seventh Tree's complexity.
On the album, Goldfrapp steps away from up-tempo pop hooks, opting for orchestral folk-psychedelia that rewards repeated listening. The sound is a complete break with 2006's Supernature, the group's last album, which went so far into pop that it sometimes pandered. Alison's sensibility, however, remains poised somewhere between the emotional frankness of folk and the oblique expression of psychedelia. Without an immediately catchy chorus, her uncanny metaphors are all the more intriguingly bizarre.
The sun-bleached Serge Leblon photos show her cavorting through pastoral greenery in the company of a man in an owl costume (probably co-composer/producer Will Gregory, the other half of Goldfrapp). Interestingly, the first page of the accompanying notebook bears a drawing of a nude woman with an owl's head, one of many animal/human hybrid beings in the Goldfrapp visual oeuvre. Maybe Alison views her collaboration with Gregory on Seventh Tree as a way of recapturing a vanished oneness with Nature, analogous to the Dionysian revels she sings about on older, disco-y tracks such as "Ride a White Horse" and "Twist."
However you interpret it, the deluxe-edition Seventh Tree should make you grateful that music still exists in physical form. It should also make you aware that design, at its best, can alter--can enrich--content.
Postscript: Definitely check out The Look's post on Alison's (too-obvious?) style references in the Seventh Tree artwork.