Much of the dance music that was popular in the first decade of the millennium is all but unrecognizable by 2017's standards. Think of the kitschy candy of Mr. Oizo's and MSTRKRFT's bloghaus; the clusterfuck horror of "witch-house" acts like Salem and Pictureplane; or the brittle dance-pop of Gaga's "Just Dance" and Kesha's "Tik Tok." You could argue that this era has aged as well as hair metal.
One sound that remains surprisingly modern today can be found in the early work of Goldfrapp, the English duo of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory. Their chilly, disco-influenced style became ubiquitous after the band released their sophomore record, Black Cherry, in 2003. After "Strict Machine" became a hit in dance clubs around the world, you could hear its legacy in later ’00s songs by Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Gaga, Little Boots, and more. But none of those songs quite captured the sultry cool of Goldfrapp's approach, one that privileged down-tempo, whispery electronica as opposed to the bombastic, colorful approach of so many other 2000s synthpop acts.
After Black Cherry and 2005's Supernature, the duo zigzagged into dreamy, synth-accented folk and peppy, ’80s-inspired pop. They redrew the band once again, this time as a sparse, almost singer-songwriter act, for 2013's Tales of Us. But while the delicate, dreary ballads on that album left much to be desired, the band's latest record, Silver Eye, is a welcome return to form.
There's a sense that the band seems to know what the people really want when it starts the album off with the throwback pop of "Anymore" and "Systemagic," which are exactly like the sort of freaky, dark disco tracks that populated Black Cherry and Supernature. But the record doesn't simply recreate the band's successful past hits — the best of Silver Eye's atmospheric pop is constantly expanding Goldfrapp's sound. Songs like "Zodiac Black" and "Faux Suede Drifter," with their droning synth washes and crackling percussion, have a Mezzanine-era Massive Attack sheen. And "Become the One" seems to take a page from The Knife's playbook, with Alison layering ghoulish vocals over prickly beats and beckoning listeners to "become the one you know you are."
"I’m ... always quite aware of us not repeating ourselves," Alison Goldfrapp said in a recent interview. "There are certain ideas or obsessions you have that might come back — and I think you can have themes and certain elements that reoccur — and that’s great, but at the same time you never want to feel like you are rehashing something." Silver Eye certainly sounds like old-school Goldfrapp, but it's also a strikingly contemporary album. Somehow, in looking back to their older sound, Goldfrapp have arrived at the present. It often sounds as though they've taken their most celebrated songs, like "Strict Machine" and "Ooh La La," and reimagined what they might sound like in 2017 if the dials were moved just a bit in other directions — a little less capital-D disco, a bit more emphasis on quieter instrumentation, and a general move toward the cool, robotic tones that define much of today's synth music.
Listening to Silver Eye, it's clear that Goldfrapp today have peers in the work of Austra, FKA twigs, or the roster of Johnny Jewel's Italians Do It Better label. This is partly because Goldfrapp's strain of sexy, sinister pop has persisted for years under the surface of mainstream music. Mining their prophetic, timeless past, Goldfrapp's Silver Eye proves it's never been a better time for their return.