Artist: Elizabeth Fraser
, Robin Guthrie
, Simon Raymonde
and Harold Budd
November 10th 1986 Label: 4AD
37m 24sFeaturing: Harold Budd
- Piano Simon Raymonde
- Bass Robin Guthrie
- Guitar Elizabeth Fraser
- Vocals Richard Thomas
Atmospheric, ambient collaboration between American New Age minimalist pianist Harold Budd and the UK outfit Cocteau Twins.
Billy Ocean, Whitney Huston, Lionel Richie, Wang Chung: in this era, mainstream radio was crowded out with largely candy-coated pop music, much of it coming out of corporate studios in LA. Whereas the first years of the decade (thanks to imported punk, goth and New Wave) had wrought a dramatic edginess to even top-40 charts, by the middle of decade that sound had been dulled and filed down. However, if you got to the right music store, and they were big enough to have an import section, they might have a few dozen albums released by the 4AD record label. This outfit wore its obscurity literally on its sleeve: the album art always gauzy and abstract, the sound titles baroque and elliptical. But someone on staff there had a good sense to hear the US minimal composer Harold Budd's most recent offering Lovely Thunder and offer up the Cocteau Twins as a possible collaboration. This was, in hindsight, pretty genius.
What's it sound like though?
Subjectively, this album will always sound to me like a windy winter's day on the shores of a sea that's eclipsed in snow. The tone of the record is just far too icy, abstracted and reflective to be considered summery. Budd's 'soft pedal' piano is lilting and dreamy; Liz Fraser's voice reverberant as it is delirious. If you were to condense a January day in half an hour's music, spent alone, with nothing but wind to watch swirl outside your frosted window pane, it might very well sound like this.
Say, for the sake of argument, I love the record? What else might I try?
If you like the more ambient, piano-centred pieces here, certainly have a listen to Harold Budd's collaboration with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois on "The Pearl" (1984), Budd's album "White Arcades" (1989) and his double-album with John Foxx titled "Translucence/Drift Music" (2003). More recently, Stars of the Lid have occupied a very similar aesthetic, in particular their last album "And Their Refinement of the Decline" (Kranky, 2007). If, on the other hand, you like the guitar and vocal work, you'll want to give the Cocteau Twins album Victorialand and their EPs Tiny Dynamine and Echoes in a Shallow Bay a try. This Mortal Coil and The Glove might also appeal.
- Sea, Swallow Me - 3.09 - Not typically big on opening flourishes, usually eliding into an album instead this track was a bit of a shock. With Guthrie's washed-out and treated guitar, The Voice of Fraser and Budd's ice-cool piano directly in the foreground, working at counter-points, this opener makes clear the album will not be a Cocteau Twins work or one of Harold Budd but instead a kind of hovering, encircling amalgam.
- Memory Gongs - 7.27 - By contrast, track two is a far more contemplative and atmospheric piece, with Budd's wandering melody trickling through what sounds to be an endless expanse, with echoes, chimes, and tinkles rising up from the ground. Like strange lights you might see hovering in a midnight mist.
- Why Do You Love Me? - 4.51 - Budd's piano work ripples and cycles along here with Guthrie's ethereal guitar - a flock of gulls circling a cliff-side swept in waves and sunlight. Like much canonical 4AD material of this era, this song has a kind of stellar, detached serenity.
- Eyes Are Mosaics - 4.09 - Budd seems to recede to the background here, as the number is carried along by Guthrie's shimmering melody along with Fraser's echoic lyrics. With at least four separate vocal tracks being warbled down here, it sounds a bit like a four-way debate sung in high elvish tongue - thesis, antithesis, synthesis in chant, more medieval than New Age riff.
- She Will Destroy You - 4.17 - Here, as in the first cut, you get equal elements from all the principals - Fraser is calling out for an unseen shore, Budd's piano provides the landmarks and anchors, Guthrie's guitar evokes the waves and clouds that are the only background.
- The Ghost Has No Home - 7.35 - Budd (working here with the saxophone and piano in a way that could only be done straight-face in the mid-80s) competes here with Guthrie in an attempt to out-meander in its coolest form. It is very far from ambient, very far from jazz, in truth, it is very far from Earth - but it coheres perfectly and despite Liz Fraser sitting this one out - this is probably the central track of the album. Like drifting to sleep on a starlit lake, or reliving the first occasion you saw clouds from above.
- Bloody And Blunt - 2.13 - Another purely instrumental track, that while pretty like falling snow, really just serves as a bridge to the final cut.
- Ooze Out And Away, Onehow - 3.39 - A purely phantasmagorical finale. All three mainstays - Budd's icy keys, Guthrie's whirlpool strings, Fraser's uplifted clarion call all work a slow build for the first 2:20 - then suddenly they break the sky open.