Showing posts with label Cocteau Twins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cocteau Twins. Show all posts

Friday, 22 January 2021

Cocteau Twins "Treasure" (1984)

When embarking on this newest musical journey with the Cocteau Twins, it is this record I was itching to write about. Discovering them back in 2011, Treasure was the album to lure me in and I have adored it too this day. Admittedly it doesn't get much rotation anymore but spinning it up again has been a pleasure and with critical ears I love how the stiff fidelity of its drum machine and awkward production were details I never heard before. These songs are so gorgeous and engulfing, that the magic simply glosses over its flaws. As I've commented before though, its aesthetic ruggedness very much works to enrich the slightly esoteric and ethereal vibes.

Stepping away from their Post-Punk roots and into Dream Pop territory, Guthrie's layered guitar experimentation finds refined glory in pivoting to acoustic guitars. Golden plucked strings lavished in reverbs often feature alongside other sparkling instruments that put emphasis on dreamy tones and a warm melodic rises. There are occasional uses of guitar distortion and its tone can sway into the shadows with these ten songs forging a wonderful variety for peering into peculiar places. Its obvious though, much of its instrumental magic is birthed from the expansion of instruments, used subtly in the swells of ethereal sound that gush forth. They play out the colored tuneful melodies the likes of Garlands before it once lacked.

Its all held in place by this clanky drum machine. Rigid and stiff in timing and tone, its repetitive strikes are often soaked in reverb, rattling off with forced punchy grooves that penetrate with a contrasted composure to everything else around it. Somehow, mysteriously, it just works so well. Fraiser's voice is another vector in the chemistry. These three components feel so distant from one another at times, yet together its a wondrous mix. I must say though, it comes in temperaments. The album jumps all over the place from track to track. Persephone may be the biggest example of what I've just described and yet with the following song Pandora it flips to its most cohesive and in tune composition. Notably, two of my favorite tracks as well.

Best of all, Fraiser comes completely into her own on this one. I was always under the impression her performance was entirely wordless and I loved putting my own words into her cryptic singing. Reading online lyric sheets does have me wondering. If they are true then its stunning how she pronounces words with such a mystic overcast. If not, its still just as magic but I prefer the later. The inflections and places she carries her voice too with vibratos and what not is endlessly joyous. Sailing high to low and dancing on her way. Every word, or lack of, just oozes with an endearing quality which never fails to cast a spell. Its some of the best vocal delivery you'll ever hear.

 Treasure is a milestone record for the group, an ascension to the spectacular. Its artistic, expressive, magical and stunningly mysterious. Knowing these songs so well, Guthrie's swell of ambiguous sound still spark the imagination. Fraisers veiled voicings always an indulgence. Its only shortcomings are in execution. Some amateurish swells of bass noise occasionally gather in the mix and some of its songs tend to end without direction. Sudden wind downs and lack of conclusion do hinder the odd song but otherwise its a classic, one anyone curious should give a go.

Rating: 9.5/10

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Cocteau Twins "The Spangle Maker" (1984)

Knowing whats to follow, The Spangle Maker is a stopgap EP seemingly distant from its surroundings. Its title track is the most subdued song the group have written to date. Its a slow burn crawling to a quiet roar with a swell of layered sound in its closing cycle. With new bassist Simon Raymonde joining, perhaps this was an exercise in integration, becoming accustom with one another in writing and the studio.
 
Either way, its a familiar tale of music that misses the spark. Peraly-Dewdrops' Drops and more so Pepper-Tree have the hallmarks of the groups blossoming sound heading in the direction of Treasure. Somehow, Fraser's timeless singing and the Ethereal persuasion of Guthrie's effect soaked guitar magic just don't click.
 
Pepper-Tree does delivery a gorgeous shadowy acoustic guitar timbre, resonating off its chilling pianos with an eerie ambience. Somewhat of a cornerstone for Autumns Grey Solace's sound. It's also rather noticeable that the bass guitar steps away from that defining upfront presence of Post-Punk music, taking a more subdued roll with a softer aesthetic. All in all its another unremarkable but slightly intriguing EP of which they have a fair few main between releases.

Rating: 3/10

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Cocteau Twins "Sunburst And Snowblind" (1983)

 
Journeying on with our deep dive on the Cocteau Twins, we have another EP featuring Sugar Hiccup and three songs left over from the Head Over Heals album. I'm getting the impression we may not find hidden gems in this avenue. These smaller release are a deeper insight to the band but more so a reminder that not everything is gold. Each of the three additional songs lack the killer spark to make them work. Possibly unfinished, they show their difficulty as the ideas present in the guitar work doesn't seem to gel with Fraser and that chemistry is absolutely vital.

From The Flagstones has all the markings of their sound, the washy guitars come across and its soft airy synths lack the gusto to elevate. Fraser comes in with power and persuasion but it misses the mark. Hitherto is the better of the three, its slow, dark and mysterious atmosphere more engrossing but on this track its Fraser who's voice doesn't quite catch the wind. Because Of Whirl-Jack brings upbeat pianos with a jovial energy and its pivot to focus on plucked acoustic strings works but the song feels like it never finds a crowning moment, perpetually swaying between verse and chorus.

One thing I can say is its fun to hear these songs and a reminder of the hard work and time it takes to craft great music. These songs are in no way bad but they highlight how bands will write songs that often don't make the light of day. Its nice to see that this music and that on the other EPs were shared, although contractual obligations may have had something to do with that given the groups outspoken dismissal of Lullabies. Anyway, whats next? You guessed it! Another EP.

Rating: 3/10

Monday, 11 January 2021

Cocteau Twins "Head Over Heels" (1983)

 
 With the departure of bassist Will Heggie, the now duo find their calling on Head Over Heels, their sophomore effort where the starts align and the magic blossoms. Its opening track When Mama Was Moth is unassuming, a slow dreary build up, nudged along by the booming echo of a drum strike as weary guitars drone under the sparkling astral melody that inspires intrigue. It takes all but twenty seconds on the following Five Ten Fiftyfold for the Ethereal beauty to emerge. Fraser plunges her voice into a spirited swoon, riding the curtails of lavish reverberation. The distant noir saxophone a perfect compliment in this gorgeous moment.

The mood is brighter, an uplift and warmth courses through these songs, arrangement shifts, guitar chords and moving the key upwards steer these esoteric and ethereal sounds to the light. The dreary, gothic darkness is still present in the abstract layers of dense guitar noise. The bass guitar shimmers underneath with a brightly punctuated chorus effect. The drum machine paces with pounds minimal groove, plunged in extravagant echos that add greatly to the muddy atmosphere.

Fraser finds herself with a greater presence in the mix. The timing often brings her in at moments of power to usher in these warm shifts of tone. Although yet to go fully wordless, her singing emphasizes feeling and emotion with many unconventional annunciations of words. The lyric sheet brings clarity but the mystery of how her voice says something different is so alluring. Words take on new meaning, all said as if looking for another, swinging from her swoon they hypnotize.

Its right inline with Guthrie's evolution. His ambiguous guitar noise clambers into new territory where craft and measure balance more obvious chords, arpeggios and string sections with the denser fog of ambiguity. It poises the music in the precarious place where convention and mystery dance in the moonlight. Its overall tone is dark, esoteric and spooky yet consistently blushes with a dazzling beauty.

Although I thought I had not ventured to this record before, a couple of tracks startled me as to how I knew them so well, yet the rest was a complete mystery! My guess Is the random videos from Youtube autoplay when I first discovered the Cocteau Twins, many years ago. Amazing how well the particulars of these songs have stuck. The love I had for this band starts here. Its a technically flawed flourish of creativity and inspiration. Big gatherings of echo crowd some moments and it has tarnishes all over. I'm loving this in a way where I know it will just keep giving and I think these amateurish growing pains are an amazing part of the experience.

 Rating: 8/10

Friday, 8 January 2021

Cocteau Twins "Peppermint Pig" (1983)

 

Before the Cocteau Twins sophomore record, arrives another, ultimately disappointing, three track EP. Released in April of 1983, it captures a moment of creative poverty where the music fails to venture upon anything of remark. Reading up on its creation, the group were forced to work with an outside producer while also feeling that their creative efforts were not up to scratch. It shows just about everywhere. The record has a drab, dry tone where its instruments feel lone and separate. The baselines rumble in repetition with a tone that feels distant from the hazy guitars. They reside in a narrow, chromatic space, dull and meandering. The hypnotic wash of pedal effects and reverb offer up little depth or texture unlike before.

Its fractions from being right but these small differences in feeling turn the songs into dull drones. The title track has some merit as layers of creepy synths and loose, shaky pianos add some much needed depth. The drum machine too is lacking in arrangement variety. The tone is dull and grinding, lacking natural echo and creativity that got it by on Garlands. In front of it all Fraser sings with a routine, that distance between instruments amplify a sore tiredness in her performance. As the band have described it themselves, its not a good record but it should be said the title track holds up okay. Its Laugh Lines and Hazel that offer little musically, further exposed by this drab production style. Disappointing but not a representation of whats to come.

Rating: 2/10

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Cocteau Twins "Lullabies" (1982)


This wasn't part of the original plan but with a bunch of EP releases between albums I though we might as well do the deep dive! I am curious enough, so checking out these three leftover songs from the Garlands session was a bit of fun! Lullabies was released just a month after their debut and its three songs represent different approaches that clearly would not of fit the mold. Its production is also a little beefed up with stronger bass lines, balanced out percussion and a louder Fraiser at the front.
 
 Feathers-Oar-Blades is her moment to open up her voice, become more involved in the music, paint it with her singing. Its a brighter track that relives itself of the dreary grey much of Garlands resided within. Not particularly memorable but the following Alas Dies Laughing take the opposite direction, almost to dark for the full length. Its actually reminiscent of Gothic outfit Christian Death and their gloomy, creepy guitar leads. The bands guitarist Guthrie emulates this tone well, layering and overlapping his eerie melodies and guitar noises with subtle reverberations.

Lastly there is It's All But An Ark Lark. A lengthy eight minute crawl propped up by the perpetual pounding of its warm tom drums and higher pitched bass kicks. Its a slightly hypnotic, atmospheric affair with Fraiser's overlapping singing sounding a little contrasted to the warm bass line and general tone. Its all interesting but obviously these songs didn't quite fit the bill and as an EP simply offer some insight to where the band were at. What was most interesting where how a connection to Gothic influences is made obvious. Of course that music scene was born of Punk and Post-Punk too.

Rating: 3/10

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Cocteau Twins "Garlands" (1982)

 
New year, new journey. To kick of 2021 I have picked out the Cocteau Twins, a band who's legacy on Ethereal music is well known to me, they are a huge influence on one of my favorite groups Autumns Grey Solace. I'm dead keen on two of the Scottish Trio's albums but Ive never dived much deeper and that's what we will now undertake.

Starting with their dreary, cold and haunting debut Garlands, released late in 1982 on 4AD Records, they ride a wave of Post-Punk bands exploring new territory and at this stage show glimmers of whats to come. Its of the era, bold upfront baselines permeate the music with solid drives of rhythm and marching tune as wails of effect soaked guitar noise create this eerie ambience of atmosphere, pale and bleak yet densely textured from its narrow confines within the mix. Screeching chords and disjointed melodies play with a grainy quality. The fretwork loops back on itself, panning in stereo, circulating ideas without progression. The music plods on in a consistently depressing manor, monochromatic like the unending grey skies of rainfall.

It was not as I expected, I actually found its temperament most comparable to Lycia's classic Cold. It too being a shivering and dark sombre affair of nightly ambiguity and unease. Yet of course the attraction to all this is the smothering mood of dreary music that can conjure the imagination of darker meditative places. Garlands never relentless from that dreary yet oddly relaxing tone. Its best releases from the tension come with the occasional baseline or lead guitar that wanders off to a warmer state of being but only ever for a brief moment before being pulled back to the norm.

The counterbalance is singer Elizabeth Fraser. Soon to evolve into the acts crowning jewel, at this point she is still finding her voice with a somewhat timid performance that is equal too the murky tone. Soft and shy in stature and performance, she is often matched by the instrumental power but her grace is felt often with beautifully sung words and reoccurring vibrato inflection at the end of her sentences. It may be mostly in the mix as her voice does tend to bleed into the guitars with the baselines still prowling proud, unhindered as they march forever forward with a firm stride.

This is a fascinating record, for its songs tend to feel like singular ideas whirling in repetition. It is dazzling in a curious ability to lure one into its stormy arms. Despite being buddy and murky its production aids the concept well with the drum machines competently keeping pace as its reverberated snare strikes frequently with a cutting harshness occasionally thrown to pitch shifting echos. The only drawback is Fraser's vocals, they sound underutilized an quiet, knowing she will hit spectacular heights with records to come. A truly dark and spooky starting point for a band that will bring much glamour and beauty to this spellbound flavor of darkness.

Favorite Track: Garlands
Rating: 7/10