Alison Goldfrapp has had a lifelong fascination with nature, something instilled in her by her father.
“For me, it’s a bit of a religion,” she told Electronic Beats in 2014. “It feeds the soul, and it’s a place to think, and a place to create, and to be in awe of, to find peace in. It’s kind of everything, really.”
She tells stories of how her father would drag the family of six kids out for long walks in the countryside, where they would sit for hours just listening and observing their surrounds. He’d wake them before the crack of dawn to watch a sunrise. Or, if there was a full moon, they’d all have to jump in the car and drive an hour and a half to the sea, so they could bathe in the moonlight.
These are the sort of amazing childhood experiences which colour and shape the wide-eyed wonder and unsettling beauty of Goldfrapp’s debut album, Felt Mountain.
Other childhood memories also orbit and assert themselves on this record. Castrol GTX ads from ‘70s, kids’ TV shows like The Clangers and other, more surreal imaginings, like hiking through snowy landscapes wearing lederhosen as part of fairy-tale whipping sessions.
Through the documentary about the making of Felt Mountain, both Alison and partner Will Gregory throw abstract ideas and influences that fuelled the chilly, film noir, gothic elegance that emanates from its songs. As its nine tracks float by, you might picture majestic tall trees, open windswept fields and endless plumes of fluffy clouds.
But the reality of this album’s creation was far less pleasant.
The Goldfrapp duo rented a bungalow out in middle of nowhere so as to focus without distraction on their record.
"It was mad and I wouldn't do it again," Goldfrapp told The Guardian in 2004. "My social and private life collapsed. Because it was a bungalow, it felt really vulnerable. Big windows. Mice in the roof.
“I like extremes but, at the end of that six months, I really did feel I was going bonkers.
“I remember spending three days in a raincoat, scrubbing the side of the bungalow because there were all these spiders hatching. I became obsessive about the wildlife I thought was taking over the bungalow. It was disgusting, moths everywhere. You could hear the mice scuttling across the roof."
But the resulting album surely made the maddening conditions worthwhile.
“It's sort of beautifully macabre,” she said. “I love all that David Lynch, Midwich Cuckoos thing. But it isn't cinema. It's real.”
It’s both fascinating and disturbing to absorb the lyrical imagery of the intertwining of ideas of what is natural and what is unnatural, and the act of human manipulation within that mix.
‘Utopia’ is about genetics and cloning.
“I’m playing with the Idea that we’re all striving to be perfect and we want other people to look perfect with this body type that we’re supposed to aspire to… that is a form of fascism.’ Goldfrapp says in the Felt Mountain documentary.
“'Human' is about an orgiastic idea – whether that's sex or whatever – it's kind of a slightly unpleasant feeling about someone and, because they are so grotesque, as to whether they are actually human or not."
If you’ve ever stood in front of funhouse mirrors, you’d know that it only takes a slight shift in any given direction to change your perception of reality. This same illusion is suggested on Felt Mountain’s front cover.
Alison’s admission to enjoying extremes perhaps stems back to those long car rides to the sea on full moonlit nights. It’s also evident in the film makers she loves, like David Lynch and Roman Polanski (whose film Cul-de-Sac influenced ‘Oompa Radar’). It is seen furthermore in the way this album was made in such intense isolation.
It’s when artists explore extremes – be it deviance, innocence and loss, the beauty and the horror in life – that we can see it’s a fine line that divides many different ways of viewing things.
Felt Mountain is a work that lays out with lush, eerie, decadence a riveting way of questioning what it is to be human.