English duo Goldfrapp indulged in fluffy, Xanadu-inspired 80s pop on 2010's Head First, a flimsy but sometimes fun effort Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory now characterize as a rush job made to meet a deadline set by their label's former parent, EMI.
Free from external pressure, they're back with a dark, pastoral folk album showcasing the impressive control and nuance in Alison's breathy, five-octave soprano. The pair typically alternate between sexed-up dance-pop and psychedelic ambience, but Tales Of Us is their most pared-down effort in the latter category.
Electronic pulsations and orchestral flourishes with widescreen ambition frequently accent the rambling, swirling guitar riffs. Movie music is a clear influence, and Goldfrapp are adept at deploying strings with subtle poignancy, making this a rich headphones experience.
But after opening with the captivating trio of songs Jo, Annabel and Drew, the album's cinematic leanings start to feel formulaic, subsumed by an overemphasis on precision that - while striking - comes at the expense of emotion.
Top track: Annabel