Not removed from the place I grew up lies Grangemouth, one of many ugliest locations on the earth. Dwelling to an oil refinery that appears like a far Jap mega-city shrunk all the way down to miniature dimension, with always burning fires and clouds of steam that appear to be darkish, sulfurous smoke, it is a imaginative and prescient of hell. I’ve all the time discovered it unimaginable a band as lovely as Cocteau Twins got here from someplace so disagreeable. However maybe there’s no contradiction in any respect.

Cocteau Twins have been shaped by Robin Guthrie and Will Heggie in 1979, with Elizabeth Fraser becoming a member of after Guthrie noticed her dancing at a neighborhood nightclub. Their title is not a reference to French artist and writer Jean Cocteau. As an alternative, it is taken from a music known as “Cocteau Twins” by Johnny and the Self Abusers (aka Easy Minds). Their early music was very a lot of its time; debut album Garlands (1982, re-released in March 2020) is moody post-punk with a transparent affect of bands like The Birthday Celebration, Bauhaus, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Cocteau Twins would not come across their trademark sound of shimmering guitars and ethereal vocals till their sophomore LP Head Over Heels, in 1983.

As Fraser and Guthrie entered right into a romantic relationship, they honed their sound all through the 80s earlier than reaching a level of mainstream success with 1988’s Blue Bell Knoll and its lead single “Carolyn’s Fingers.” After three extra albums, all of which have been nicely acquired (with Fraser being described by one overly eager critic as “The Voice of God“), they disbanded in 1997, owing largely to the breakdown of Guthrie and Fraser’s relationship. It was not an amicable cut up: As not too long ago as 2005, Fraser pulled out of a deliberate reunion at Coachella competition, which might have earned them £1.5 million every, as a result of she not might bear to share a stage together with her former lover.

Following the breakup of the band, Fraser offered vocals for a variety of tracks on Large Assault‘s album Mezzanine, together with hit single “Teardrop” (has another artist contributed extra to the “good songs to hearken to after a heavy night time” canon?). In the meantime, Robin Guthrie took the blueprint of the Cocteau Twins in ever extra experimental instructions, releasing a variety of instrumental albums in addition to writing music for movies. His rating for Mysterious Pores and skin, which he labored on with American composer and former Cocteau Twins collaborator Harold Budd, is each attractive and unhappy.

They have been beloved by Prince, adored by Madonna (though their bassist as soon as described the latter as a “actual slagbag”), but Cocteau Twins stored a notoriously low profile. There was no political posturing, no iconoclasm or simply definable aesthetic. They’d little or no of what makes bands attention-grabbing, exterior of the music. They’re ineffable, each musically and when it comes to the personas they introduced.

Fraser as soon as mocked the makes an attempt of music journalists to explain their music: “What I discover actually humorous is the best way they all the time put ‘you may’t analyze their music or describe it in phrases however anyway right here goes: it is a radiant ethereal dooda dooda no matter…'” As somebody who Googled “ethereal synonyms” whereas scripting this piece, I can’t assist however really feel personally attacked.

So You Wish to Get Into… Moody, Gothic, Publish-Punk Cocteau Twin?

So, Cocteau Twins’ debut album Garlands ruins the “isn’t it wild that the Cocteau Twins got here from a horrible place?” thesis by very a lot sounding prefer it was written in Grangemouth. It’s claustrophobic and discordant and the moments of transcendence are few and much between. The refrain of “Blind Dumb Deaf” presents the primary flash of the craving that characterised Cocteau Twins’ later music, however there’s nonetheless one thing off-kilter about it. In the meantime, “The Hole Males” squanders the promise of its snappy opening bass line with extra plodding discordance. For me, the album feels somewhat oppressive. That is my subjective opinion and I’ve buddies who take into account the album amongst their finest. However yeah, it sounds such as you’ve obtained misplaced in an oil refinery and would actually identical to to seek out your approach out.

“Feathers Oar Lands” from follow-up EP Lullabies stands up loads higher. Is that… a riff? A muscular bass-line? Are the Cocteau Twins rocking out? Sure—and I adore it. It’s maybe the one Cocteau Twins music you would begin a mosh pit to, albeit a fey, wistful one. You additionally hear Elizabeth Fraser sounding type of aloof, which makes for an attention-grabbing distinction together with her later, extra earnest, type.

“Peppermint Pig”, the eponymous title monitor of an 1983 EP, additionally sounds surprisingly aggressive. Given how dreamy their later output is, it’s simple to overlook that The Cocteau Twins emerged in a post-punk context, however right here it’s actually obvious. It seems like Siouxsie and the Banshees, if that’s what you’re into.

Playlist: “Feathers Oar-Blades” / “Blind Dumb Deaf” / “Peppermint Pig” / “Hazel” / “Wax and Wane” / “The Hole Males” / “Garlands” / “When Mama Was Moth” / “However I am Not” / “Musette and Drums” / “Laughlines”

So You Wish to Get Into… Enjoyable, Wacky, Playful Cocteau Twins?

Has a band this good ever had such ridiculous music titles? “Fluffy Tufts?” “Frou-frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires?” And simply what precisely is a “Nice Spangled Fritillary” when it’s at house? Regardless of their earnest status, the Cocteau Twins are generally fairly foolish. This playlist showcases them on this mode. It is stuffed with bizarre, enjoyable songs the place Elizabeth Fraser actually lets unfastened, and songs to which you would do an interpretive dance.

It doesn’t matter should you don’t perceive what Elizabeth Fraser is singing. Quite than being an unintentional quirk, the anomaly of her lyrics is the results of a thought-about inventive resolution.

Discussing her songwriting course of for the 1986 album Victorialand, Fraser mentioned, “The lyrics are phrases I’ve discovered by going by dictionaries and books in languages I don’t perceive. The phrases don’t have any that means in any respect till they’re sung.” In actual fact, her distinctive methodology of songwriting derived largely from a insecurity in her capacity to put in writing conventionally: “Trying again, [it] was a device to assist get issues out. I did not have the arrogance simply to sit down down and write one thing. I used to be all the time working away from that.”

The truth that Fraser’s lyrics sound like gibberish can have a joyous impact. Take “Orange Appled,” with its looping bass line and ecstatic vocals — that is the Cocteau Twins you wish to hearken to whereas stoating by a park in shorts on a sunny day. “Pitch the Child” options one among Fraser’s most satisfying, unrestrained vocal performances. The tone of “Multifoiled” is maybe too somber to really slot in with this class, but it surely’s additionally undeniably type of funky.

Taken from 1984’s Treasure LP, “Ivo” is so grand and operatic that it turns into barely farcical, an impact not helped by the virtually yodel-like backing vocals. Nonetheless, it’s nice. Please forgive me however I’ve additionally included their partly horrible, partly charming cowl of “Frosty the Snowman”. If nothing else, it is a testomony to the very fact Cocteau Twins don’t take themselves too significantly.

Playlist: “Orange Appled” / “Pitch The Child” / “Multifoiled” / “Ivo” / “Wolf In The Breast” / “These Eyes, That Mouth” / “Mellonella” / “Frosty The Snowman” / “Suckling The Mender”

So You Wish to Get Into… Ambient, Experimental, Maybe Even Instrumental Cocteau Twins?

I’ve by no means considered the Cocteau Twins as a very erotic band however within the 1980s they have been inundated with followers sending them home-made porn movies set to their music. To every their very own! If you happen to’re completely decided to shag somebody to the Cocteau Twins although, this playlist could be your finest guess—though be ready for an sometimes unsettling vibe.

It options songs from throughout their profession however attracts closely from their two most ambient albums. The primary, 1986’s The Moon and the Melodies, is a partly instrumental collaboration with composer Harold Budd. Victorialand, launched the identical yr, is a stripped-back affair through which Cocteau Twins’ characteristically expansive soundscapes are sometimes diminished to Fraser’s vocals and a single guitar line. From the previous album, it’s exceptional how contemporary “Why Do You Love Me” nonetheless sounds. With its wailing, siren-like suggestions, it jogs my memory of Mica Levi’s soundtrack for Underneath the Pores and skin. I’ve included a number of tracks right here however, actually, the whole thing of The Moon and the Melodies is value a pay attention.

Songs from later of their profession like “Essence”, “Rilkean Coronary heart” and “Evangeline” are extra conventionally melodic however share a dreamy, spaced-out high quality. Lastly, though it’s not strictly talking a Cocteau Twins monitor, I’ve included This Mortal Coil’s cowl of Tim Buckley’s “Tune to the Siren”, on the idea that it’s probably the greatest show-cases of Fraser’s vocals there may be, and likewise as a result of Daybreak French picked it as one among her Desert Island Discs, which I discover endearing.

Playlist: “Why Do You Love Me?” / “The Ghost Has No Dwelling” / “Reminiscence Gongs” / “Fluffy Tufts” / “Oomingmak” / “The Thinner the Air” / “Frou-frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires” / “Evangeline” / “Essence” / “Pandora” / “Rilkean Coronary heart” / “Tune To The Siren” / “Beatrix”

So You Wish to Get Into… Euphoric, Transcendent, Anthemic Cocteau Twins?

For a band with a status for being esoteric, the Cocteau Twins have crafted some actually memorable, rousing choruses; for instance, “Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops,” with its joyous chorus of ‘dizzy, dizzy, dizzy, paddy, paddy, paddy, bicycle and tulips-eh,’ or one thing.

This playlist, which spans their profession, is made up of the bangers, the hits, the songs you may need heard of even should you’re not acquainted with them. These are the songs for cruising spherical your dead-end city together with your ragtag group of misfit buddies, dreaming of a greater tomorrow; the songs which lend actions as banal as getting the bus to work a melancholy, filmic grandeur.

It additionally options my all-time favourite Cocteau Twins music, “Carolyn’s Fingers.” In its closing refrain, two completely different Fraser vocal traces are laid on high of one another to create one among most exquisitely craving sounds I’ve ever heard. The video, too, is great: I defy you to look at the extraordinary sincerity on Fraser’s face (she’s decked out in a prim Victorian robe which makes it much more endearing) and never be moved. There’s an intense vulnerability and earnestness to her efficiency; at occasions she appears to flinch from the digicam, however there’s a suggestion of pleasure, too. “Carolyn’s Fingers” speaks to me of endurance, hope and rebirth —which is, in fact, pure hypothesis.

Different highlights of the playlist embody “Heaven or Las Vegas,” which was their largest hit. It’s extraordinarily accessible and doubtless one of the best place to begin should you’re a whole novice to the band. I haven’t mentioned the album Treasure a lot, but it surely’s lots of people’s favourite and if you hearken to “Lorelei” you may perceive why; I as soon as heard somebody describe it as “what falling in love seems like,” which is nearly as good an outline as any. There’s a deeply poignant emotional depth to it—it could even be an ideal soundtrack for a heartbreak.

“Bluebeard,” written as her relationship with Guthrie was disintegrating, is commonly held up for instance of Fraser at her most forthright and confessional. Although it options traces like “Are you the appropriate man for me? Are you protected? Are you my buddy? Or are you poisonous for me?’, it is surprisingly gentle and breezy. Lastly, “Love’s Straightforward Tears,” together with its music video, makes me wish to go to the flat of somebody who owns a large tv and take psychedelics for a number of days. If you happen to solely pay attention to at least one playlist, make it this one. The remaining can come later.

Playlist: “Sugar Hiccup” / “Fotzepolitic” / “Lorelei” / “Pearly-dewdrops’ Drops” / “Aikea-Guinea” / “Kookaburra” / “Love’s Straightforward Tears” / “Heaven Or Las Vegas” / “Bluebeard” / “Summerhead” / Cherry-coloured Funk” / “Iceblink Luck” / “Carolyn’s Fingers”


This text initially appeared on VICE UK.

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