“I’ve got one of those faces that, when I don’t have makeup on, people sort of look about shocked when the know the name — and they look at me, like ‘Blimey!’” says Alison Goldfrapp, the vocalist and synth player for the British alternative-pop duo that bears her last name. Such people are quite often “disappointed,” she believes. “But it’s fine by me. I quite like being the voyeur.”
Just shy of six months after the release of Goldfrapp’s seventh studio album, Silver Eye, the duo plays a single show at the Warfield Theatre this Saturday, Sept. 16. Known for a mercurial style that morphs from album to album, the band’s sound always remains anchored to Goldfrapp’s signature breathy vocal style, which can sound like a computer-generated soprano voice program that passed some musical equivalent of the Turing Test.
There has always been a roboticism — if not an outright transhumanism — to Goldfrapp’s work, even on tracks that veer far into glam-rock or outright folk. (Curiously, Goldfrapp and professional partner Will Gregory first came together via the demo of a song called “Human.”)
And while radio stardom eluded even Goldfrapp’s better-known songs — “Strict Machine,” say, or “Rocket” — they’ve remained critical darlings for nearly 20 years. Too firmly grounded in the pop idiom to be described as properly ambient, Goldfrapp produces what Brian Eno might call “music for spaceports” — or they would, if the songs weren’t so frequently up-tempo. While they’ve never put out a cinematic soundtrack, Goldfrapp did score a production of Medea at U.K.’s National Theater three years ago. That was probably a one-off, Alison Goldfrapp says, although she’s happy to accept further invitations back to the stage.
Silver Eye’s title refers to the moon, and the abundant references to pagan spirituality are a curious glimpse into the mind of artists who’ve always affected a radiant cool. But it’s not a brand-new direction.
“There’s always been an element of that in the albums,” she said, pointing out spots of it on 2003’s Black Cherry. But rather than describing infatuation in terms of electronic pulses when she’s plugged into her lover, Silver Eye opener “Anymore” contains lyrics like “Your strange music, like lucid dreams / The power of you transforming me.” Or on “Systemagic,” with “Waning moon in platonic dreams / You’re my kinda bling, my alibi.” But this half of Goldfrapp demurs when hearing the album described in terms of coaxing warmth out of icy coldness — albeit coyly, deflecting back to the verdicts of others.
“That’s so interesting, because most people said the opposite,” she says.
However, it’s undeniable that Silver Eye’s sound owes at least some of its depth to a collaboration with the darkly atmospheric musician-producer The Haxan Cloak, who’s worked with luminaries like Björk. For a tight-knit two-person act, allowing space for a younger figure who’s more adept at different studio technologies was not that hard, Goldfrapp says.
“I really wanted to get that different energy in the room, and I think that’s how it worked on things,” she says. There’s an element of a magician as well. He’s quite creative. … I like that kind of spontaneity.”
Associating Goldfrapp’s method with spontaneity might sound counterintuitive, but if you’re skeptical, you’d be wrong. (“Everyone always says that but weirdly, no,” she says of the doubters.) While the duo’s finished products can sound deliberate, as if they’d entered the studio with a clear idea of what they wanted at the end, they leave a lot of room open for improvisation, generating ideas in “little sketches.”
“Quite often, you start out with a specific idea, but things quickly change an it ends up somewhere completely different,” she says.
Music is not Alison Goldfrapp’s only chosen medium, either. Her personal Instagram reveals a passion for elaborately staged self-portraits, another intriguing mode of expression for a chameleon (although she says she’s never had a show, group or solo). Much of the photographs are in striking, often washed-out landscapes, and an even greater percentage of them obscure her face in some way. This relates to her understanding of herself as a non-famous public figure, with a name that’s far more recognizable than her face. However, in the age of social media, the once-venerable genre of the self-portrait has become almost debased and ignoble. So many selfies are meant only to inspire envy in the recipient of a texted image, without any thought to aesthetic merit.
Goldfrapp considers this. In art school, she was exposed to second-wave feminism’s suspicion of images of female bodies that were reproduced solely for the male gaze, but women have a long history with self-portraits, so Goldfrapp claims to still be “figuring it out.”
“I don’t know, it’s really interesting,” she says. “It’s sort of ridiculous as well, I think it’s just that people have been doing it forever. It’s just a different set of medium, I suppose.”
Goldfrapp, Saturday, Sept. 16, 9 p.m., at the Warfield, 982 Market St. $40-$60; thewarfieldtheatre.com