Band History:

      The Cocteau Twins were founded in Grangemouth, Scotland (situated between Glasgow and Edinburgh) in 1979. Their name derived from a Simple Minds song. Originally formed by guitarist Robin Guthrie and bassist Will Heggie, rounded out by Guthrie's girlfriend Elizabeth Fraser, whose swooping vocals use subjective textures of tenor and timbre to verbalize emotions (i.e. echolalic singing). Liz (b. Aug. 29, 1963) became chief vocalist and lyricist. At the time, she was all of 17 years-old, and had never really thought of herself as a singer. Robin would go on to handle, with varying degrees of success, guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, programming, sampling and mixing.
      In 1982, the trio signed moved to London and the 4AD label, home of the Birthday Party at the time, who pushed the fledgling label management to sign up the odd group. They debuted later that year with Garlands, whose distorted guitars, tape loops, echo boxes and Roland TR-808 drum machine anchored brooding Heggie's bass. The trio was immediately likened either to Siouxsie and the Banshees or Kate Bush, though they were clearly neither. But the bassist split soon after, leaving Guthrie and Fraser to cut the August 1983's Head Over Heels EP as a duo. Guthrie and Fraser's cover of Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren," (sampled heavily, much later for the techno club hit "Temple of Dreams") recorded as part of 4AD's This Mortal Coil project, only reinforced their reputation .
      Autumn 1983: bassist Simon Raymonde joins the band to record the EP The Spangle Maker; becoming an essential component of the band's overall aesthetic, assuming an active role as a writer, arranger and producer. They go on to issue the 1984 EP Pearly-Dewdrops' Drop: the band’s first Top 30 hit (and incidentally, one of Daddy G's all-time faves and played endlessly in the Bristol record store where he was working that summer).! This new-found success led to the LP Treasure, their most ambitious work yet recorded. In 1995, they flood their fans with three simultaneous EPs : Aikea-Guinea, Tiny Dynamite, and Echoes in a Shallow Bay, trailed a year later by Victorialand, the Love's Easy Tears EP and The Moon and the Melodies, recorded with minimalist composer Harold Budd.
      Raymonde found it puzzling, however, that the group was constantly being referred to as a 'synth band' in articles by the Brit music press. "The idea is that we are a synth band. We have none. Our only keyboard is a piano, treated. People reviewed our shows and talked about the sequenced layers of synths. We were called a keyboard band? What synths? If you plug a guitar into an amp, it sounds boring unless you're John Lee Hooker or something. It sounds like the history of rock and roll. I use effects to create a new sound that's the way you go. I'm an expert with sounds. I like to fiddle with effect processors. Not just using presets, I like to get in there and create my own sounds. Using decays, pitch changing and delays." By this time, they’d founded their own studio in leafy South-West, enclave Twickenham by the Thames, and christened September Sound
A certain pleasure is derived from a way of imagining oneself as individual, of inventing a final rarest fiction: the fictive identity. This fiction is no longer the illusion of a unity; on the contrary, it is the theater of society in which we stage ourselves. – Roland Barthes, Pleasure of the Text, 62.
      A staggered Blue Bell Knoll emerges next in 1988, as the trio signed an international contract with Capitol Records. This period was also rumoured to mark the apex of their whispered-to-be-astronomical drug intake. Suddenly, amidst international accolades and a push to get straight, Robin and Liz had a healthy baby girl. This seems to have swung them over the top, into a far more mature sound. After 1990's Heaven or Las Vegas (the bands' personal favorite), they finally part with 4AD, just as Fraser's lyrics actually began to emerge from the effects. 1993's Four-Calendar Cafe continued in this vein. Then in 1995, on simultaneous EPs, Twinlights offered non-synthesized sounds, while Otherness, remixed by Seefeel's Mark Clifford, rendered their sound into ambient techno. 1996's Milk and Kisses LP, on the other hand, marked a return to the band's archetypal style. Though they flatly refute any intentional obscurantism, they rarely released singles for forthcoming albums (common practice in the UK), toured erratically, eschewed all TV appearances and were notorious introverted during interviews. The album covers themselves helped not a whit either, says Raymonde: "We didn't put very much information. It's not that we want to be obscure. We just felt that it wasn't necessary. It didn't work from a design point. It looks nicer, and has a cleaner sense. It didn't matter what we look like, but I understand now that people want to know about us. We didn't want to hide. So we decided to do press this time around too. But really it was about art work."
      The Cocteau Twins quietly disbanded while working on an uncompleted follow-up; the posthumous BBC Sessions appeared in 1999. Liz has two daughters - Lucy and Lily - and makes her home in Bristol, England with her new partner, musician Damon Reece. Robin lives and works in Twickenham, England (just south of London), with his wife, Florence, and their two children. He is also the proud father of Lucy Belle, his daughter with Liz.

Liz Fraser's Lyrical Theories:

      "A lot of the stuff I was singing about in the early 1980's was all metaphorical. I wasn't talking like I am now. I guess it's back to how much personal power you feel that you have. Like, if I'm 17 and I don't even know when I'm hungry, am I tired, have I had any sleep - if you don't even know that, then how can you talk about lyrics that come from such an unconscious place? I always said 'I don’t know', and I didn't." Alternative Press, 1995.

      "What I've got to do is get honest, to stop doing what I was doing. Unfortunately, and this is typical of me, I tend to go from one extreme to the other. To go from an album like Blue Bell Knoll, which is so heavily disguised and removed from reality, to Heaven or Las Vegas, or even more to this one, where everything on it is in English and it's all audible...it is extreme, I think. But it seems important for me to do that." Raygun, 1993.

      "What they are (pre-Four-Calendar Cafe lyrics) words that I've taken from...maybe seen written down...in a language that I don't understand, and liking them...and maybe...making new words as well out of them. I mean I've got reams and reams of words that I don't have a clue what they mean, but...I wanted them because, I knew I'd be able to express myself without giving anything away. Combining words in different languages that I couldn't understand just meant that I could concentrate on the sound and not get caught up in the meaning." NPR Interview, 1993.

Collaborators Over Time:

      The Autumns, Harold Budd, Guy Chadwick, Chapterhouse, Chemical Brothers, Seefeel, Future Sound of London, Peter Gabriel, Lush, Massive Attack, Ian McCulloch, Medicine, Moon Shake, Rothko, Spooky, This Mortal Coil, Wolfgang Press and Yu-Ra are just some of the notable bands who've asked one or more of the Cocteau Twins for help.

The Records Themselves:
Knowledge is nothing but working with the favorite metaphors. – Nietzsche.
Garlands (June 1982, 57 min.) : treacherous, guttural, their most visceral and neo-primitive sounding by far, with songs like "Blood Bitch" and "Grail Overfloweth" almost menacing the listener. "Shallow then Halo" for instance, is an intense slow-build dirge - their wispy answer to a Bauhaus song (expect Liz is on about stars and ghosts, rather than bloodsuckers). The blandishment Gothic is a sloppy one to apply here (the band's sound, after all, is more consistently impressionist or new Raphaelitism if you had to equate with an aesthetic movement). That said, the record's minor keys, tribal beats, frantic bass, raw atmospherics, combined with a very manic-sounding Liz Fraser make it a very dark but mesmerizing debut, sounding a bit like Joy Division jamming with Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, if you can imagine such a thing. Import version also includes six strong tracks from a January 1983 John Peel Session. Required listening.

Head Over Heels/Sunburst & Snowblind (August /September 1983, 66 min.) : With tracks like "Five ten fiftyfold" unusually clear) and "Sugar Hiccup" (which really does seem to be about breakfast cereal), the group is developing a lighthearted jangle quite at odds with their first LP - dumping the obligatory gloom like a bad habit. Robin Guthrie's guitar is in the foreground, waxing psychedelic along with the occasional distant hilltop saxophone (courtesy of a Dif Juz member, it was the early 80s after all). This record, once a favorite, now sounds very transitional looking back. It lags badly around "Glass Candle Grenades" mired and muddied in a wash of effects pedals and echo boxes (though, even then, the last track "Musette & Drums" is as close Fraser ever comes to a revivalist Gospel delivery and for a fan well worth shelling out to hear just on its own). The Sunburst EP included with the re-issue sounds intensely enthusiastic in comparison, with Liz really pushing her range into strange new territory.

Treasure (October 1984, 41 min.) : With Simon Raymonde added to the line-up, this albums sets off with the flighty chimes and reverberations of "Ivo" and proceeds to get as elfish loopy as they come (ca. 1984, one imputes, a staggering intake of narcotics and more than a passing fancy for oblique European film & fashion may've pushed them along). Tracks like "Beatrix" sound in hindsight much like the chamber pop many instrumentalist bands from North America are writing today, two decades on. Needless to say, on any record, some aspects will date (ex. drum machine sequencing for Guthrie was still an imperfect art) but where the structures are kept minimal, like "Aloysius" the effect is luminous, sounding like a schoolyard children's chant of some hidden sylvan race. As with several other efforts, they've clearly fond of book-ending their albums with theatrical flourishes, and Treasure is no exception, with the final cut, "Domino", a operatic piece decked in sparkling chorals, swirling solos, ecstatic crests and muted troughs running through three movements in six transfixing minutes. Required listening.

The Pink Opaque (November 1985, 40 min.) : This compilation, the first domestic release in North America, must have set heads spinning at the time (Foreigner's "I Want To Know What Love Is" was a big player that fall). Featuring cuts from numerous singles and full-lengths, this is a tactful overview of their rather abstracted sound for US listeners, their baroque, celestial sensibility in full swing with tracks like "Aikea-Guinea" and "The Spangle Maker". The mood creeps consistently near jubilant on a few of the tracks in fact, like holiday carols in some dead but glorious language, and the atmosphere culminates with the breezy Lorelei into a Yuletide giddiness. Excellent intro to their early sound.

Echoes in A Shallow Bay/Tiny Dynamine (October 1985, 48 min.) : Think its safe to say the drug tab went up a notch for these two EPs, their most detached and hallucinatory material. Guitar, bass, piano are practically indistinguishable, the ominous treatments ripple through Fraser's glass-like voice here, both fragile and somewhat weary sounding. "Pink Orange Red" alone inspired a few dozen imitators however to record their own interpretations of dream pop. Unfortunately not every singer can finagle the intensity even a bored Fraser manages on a track like Plain Tiger. The "Echoes" half of the EP is similarly looped out, with the opener "Great Spangled Fritillary", a resounding anthem of strangeness, chanting and churning with Dada lyrics and mutated arabesque influences, the song erupts three minutes into a gale of warbling incantations. Moments that shuddering, on their own, are worth a records' price.

Victorialand (April 1986, 33 min.) : Robin and Liz pieced this one together on their own, in their own studio, their first duo effort since Head over Heels (Simon split to work on the 2nd This Moral Coil LP). This record captures an intimacy they wouldn't recapture until their very last LP and some of their most low-key, reflective material can be found here, with the opener "Lazy Calm" spelling out immediately the whole theme and feel. Being the first record of theirs I ever heard (on cassette tape, 1987, tellingly) it still holds some pretty monumental acreage in my heartspace. Be forewarned though, as noted it will tend to drive some listeners into near apoplectic discomfort or annoyance. Fraser's voice is up front here as on no other record since Garlands; and some people simply cannot abide music with lyrics they can't make out, esp. what sounds like another language (noticed this too with Sigur Ros, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Psychedelic Furs, etc.). With that caveat though, some of their finest acoustic stuff is on this album "Oomingmak" is a fantastical, folky bit of work (which, again, spawned a host of imitators) and "Little Spacey" is a jilting carnivalesque waltz. The show-stopper, however, is "Feet Like Fins" with Fraser's voice a twirling diamond top spinning on the simple acoustic glass of Guthrie's guitar. Required listening.

Love’s Easy Tears (November 1986, 14 min.) : Best single of theirs before Otherness (a decade later), shocking in its sheer unapologetic prettiness, with the title track rendering a heart in your throat melody. With the band all back together after nearly a year, the songs are little triple helices of harmony. "Sigh’s Smell of Farewell" is a medieval lullaby, "Those Eyes, That Mouth" like some sort of pointillist party mix, breaking out in a final half-minute of nightingale rapture.

Moon and the Melodies (December 1986, 37 min.) : The group brought in minimalist piano composer Harold Budd for this, so it officially is stands outside their oeuvre proper (like Eno on Bowie’s Heroes or Low, he steals large gaping chunks of the show) this is still very close to my favorite work of theirs. Hesitantly noted, there seems almost an aura in a room where this record plays for a while, though some critics find this manner of discreet music akin to auditory wallpaper. There are, admittedly, a few dodgy moments (the exceedingly grating sax solo at the end of "She Will Destroy You" for ex., even though the same on the next track works beautifully) - they stray at times precariously near an a precipice of precious frippery but in the end the center does hold, anchored by Budd’s crystalline piano (on "Memory Gongs" and "The Ghost Has No Home" esp.) while Fraser’s deploys uncharacteristically restrained technique ("Ooze Out and Away, Onehow" practically done in a Cranes-like whisper). This is the musical equivalent of watching a midnight snowfall, from bed, while just slightly too champagne tipsy. At times painfully subtle but phenomenal. As Mat Snow of NME wrote, "New Age music for those who sneer at New Age Music."

Heaven or Las Vegas (September 1990, 38 min.) : The overly-treated 80s ethereality (which hit its climax with Blue Bell Knoll, which I’ve diplomatically skipped, along with their last Milk and Kisses) went out the window here, traded in for a new exuberance. With more up-tempo beats and some of Fraser’s first perceptibly lucid lyrics, they trade in obliquity for wonder-making new sound. "Pitch the Baby" has a chorus you can actually sing along to, and though the cascades of sounds and curtains of fuzz are still present, the sparks and arcs of tracks like "Fotzepolitic" and "Frou-frou Foxes" bring them brilliantly up to speed. An inspired and enchanting (I kid you not) party record, which makes no real sense, and for that reason alone, also my out-right favorite. Required listening.

Four-Calendar Cafe (November 1993, 41 min.) : Breaking away from 4 AD, fans worried and wondered about what would result. In many ways, this is their last trademark work before going wholly acoustic (excepting the Otherness EP, more a product of ex-Seefeel twiddler Mark Clifford, and one of the best remix efforts, bar none, I’ve ever heard and really which hadn’t been swiped by an ex- of mine). Real drum kits, clear song structures and sparse atmospheric layering show them move after more than a decade into sharp focus. "Bluebeard" has the jangle of a Johnny Marr riff, "Oil of Angels" a relaxed, confident rhythm, "Squeeze-wax" cantors and lilts as coyly as any track on Victorialand. The real difference here being how consummate they’ve gotten at turning traditional pop song lines whorls inside-out - until the last two tracks, "Summerhead" and "Pur" uncork that restraint completely, with the last three minutes of the album (on a slow build track) being up there with some of the most pyrotechnic and hypnotic they’ve ever recorded.

! More than a decade later, 3D and Mushroom ran into Liz Fraser as she was wheeling by the ice cream cooler in a Bristol grocery store. They were awe-struck, having heard nothing of her moving to town (she'd just left Guthrie and London for good). She was duly flattered when they pleaded with her to grace the record they were working on. From this encounter sprang 'Teardrop' (on Mezzanine) and the accompanying video with singing foetus. Fraser had showed up at their studio particularly elated, having just found out she was going to be a mother again.

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