Having recently split a subpar album into two EPs in the previous year, the Cocteau Twins return with a full release that on paper you'd suspect would be more likely to suffer that fate. With bassist Raymonde tied up with other commitments, Victorialand strips out percussion and bass in a bold, experimental move that actually turns up gold. Initially it stands apart for lacking what is seemingly a core part of the groups music and ironically the focus on guitar and vocal alone forge a beautiful chemistry between the two, something their recent string of EPs seemed to lack all too often.
Guthrie refines a sound heard before, often intermittent between his echo delay experimentation with ambiguous guitar texture. With a touch of roomy reverberation his focus lands on lush, bold acoustic guitar chords and plucked strings. Dreamy, bright and glossy they flow lavish and oozy as the melodies vibrate and resonate in soft feedback loops. Although a little hazy and foggy they dance in the Ethereal wash, swaying with a timeless dreaminess the band yield, somehow unlike anything before.
Fraser finds a stride heard many times before with the best of her spirited singing. She leans in on the unusual pronouncing and annunciations that put emphasis and feeling in the unconventional spots. She meanders around the guitars like a wandering spirit, rising and falling, exploring her range and depth of expression. Her pace is drawn out, lingering on scenic notes, voicing with a ghostly intent. The use of pre-echo and other manipulations artfully expand the avenue this duo carved for themselves.
Chemistry is often king and here it reigns supreme as the focus on two instruments have them finding the sublime connections on its best tracks. All sorts of fantastical places of adventure and intrigue are conjured in the imagination when they find a stride. A Saxaphone and Tabla can be heard chiming in on occasion and one or two song use a tiny sway of percussion and sometimes bass. Its so subtle it seems almost necessary yet irrelevant in the shadow of absence the majority of the music carries.
A bonus track, remixed by Massive Attack, serves to show how well the music can stand on its own while being completely open to percussion and bass. Final song, The Thinner The Air, is a tense, winding closer that dissipates at the albums end. The accompaniment of Trip Hop thuds, cracks and piano chords add in a foundation entirely optional. It highlights how much magic is birthed in this chemistry and how the common and expected are sometimes unnecessary to what makes the music tick. Victorialand has its moments and some songs may not click so sweetly but it is a change in pace worthy of attention!