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Cocteau Twins


Country of origin:

Scotland

Type of music generally:

Cross between new age, dance music and ? (jbr@casetech.dk)

The Cocteau Twins pretty much define ethereal music. (neal)

Status:

The band has broken up. The Lullabies to set was released in 1999, but their last studio album, milk & kisses appeared in 1996.

See also:

Robin Guthrie's new site

Treasure, the official Cocteau Twins page.

What the hell, may as well look at the 4AD page while you are out there too.

Comparisons:

Bel Canto, Miranda Sex Garden's (Iris), Dead Can Dance. (jbr@casetech.dk)

The comparisons usually go the other way. :) (dbx@aa.net)

Covers/own material:

Own material

General comments:

alogical idioglossiac vowelerious eaurophonia.
     as for Cocteau Twins in general, i sometimes felt that older Cocteau Twins sounded in some way like Siouxsie and the Banshees from the same time, the early '80s. but it seems a subtle similarity and i've rarely found anyone to agree with me on this. but i think that overall the Cocteau Twins are on the mellow end of things, not soporific, at least to my ears, but perhaps an acquired taste. almost always layered and beautiful and little-l-lush, sweet and dreamy drown-me honey dew doo do you? they've kind of wandered around stylistically over the years, though not as wildly as Siouxsie and the Banshees to be sure! (winona@mildh.pair.com)

I don't know whether the Cocteau Twins invented ethereal music, but they certainly perfected it to my ear. Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie created an ill-defined flow of music, largely synthesized, with little harmony or beat. Fraser's absolutely beautiful voice floats along and under the surface, as an instrument carrying the melody, not the lyrics. Thus their songs are single themes explored in different directions, with little development or change. When this works, a song becomes a glittering, crystal-sharp diamond, presented to the listener from all angles. When it does not, a song becomes a formless, shapeless lump of coal, an endless repetition of boredom. It's a high tribute to the Cocteaus that they pull off this very tough trick not only consistently but with occasionally great songs.
     The lyrics are so buried that they are obviously secondary to the music, especially since Fraser often sings using nonsense (?) non-English (?) words. Yet occasionally, your mind thinks it can pluck out a coherent word from the flow. In fact, on some albums, she does use English words, and on Four-Calendar Café, even complete sentences. I'm sure many arguments have raged over the Cocteau's lyrics. However, the lyrics are not the point at all. Simply lie back and let the flow of glittering music wash over you. For me, the more I listen to their albums, the more I like them. Their album covers and titles are as fascinatingly abstract and meaningless as their lyrics. Trying to find something negative to say in general about them, they do have a habit of ending songs by simply cutting them off quite abruptly. (dbx@aa.net)

The Cocteau Twins are an amazing band fronted by a women named Liz Fraser with one of the most beautifully unusual voices I have ever heard. Other members of the group currently are Robin Guthrie (who had a baby named Lucy Bell with Liz) and Simone Raymond. Their sound has changed a lot over the years and has matured a lot in the last 5-6 years. (JLeonard@st.ceu.edu)

the earliest material garlands and the two 12" eps that i forget the titles of) has early 80s, Siouxsie and the Bansheesish, pseudo-gothic overtones. the bands were distinctively different, but i think they share the same point of departure. (woj@smoe.org)

I've been interested in the Cocteau Twins since their debut album Garlands, and they were my favourite band for quite a while in the Treasure era, but I lost them a little bit after Tiny Dynamite / Echoes in a shallow bay. I kept buying their albums though, and every now and then I have a Cocteau Twins revival period. (Marion)

One of my all-time favorite bands. I've been happy with every Cocteau Twins release—the first I heard was Blue Bell Knoll, then I bought their back catalog and each new one as it came out. I was very surprised to see the general slamming of Four-Calender Café on the 4ad list and elsewhere on the net (it is, in fact, the great vitriol over this fight that caused me to leave that list and not return), because I thought it too was a good step forward in the Cocteau Twin journey. None of their albums have been exactly like the ones before. (cinnamon@one.net)

If Treasure had been the first Cocteau Twins album I'd bought I'd have bought others a lot sooner. Of the other albums I have, I also really like Milk and Kisses and Blue Bell Knoll. Garlands isn't bad, but it's not much like any of their later stuff. I only really like one song on Four Calendar Cafe; some of the others on that album are just too weird because you can understand the lyrics. Victorialand really fails to do much for me; it was the first Cocteau Twins album I bought and didn't initially encourage me to buy more. (stevev@hexadecimal.uoregon.edu)

I enjoy the Cocteau Twins. I like the layered guitars, keys and ethereal vocals. I never got heavily into them, but like some of their work. (wpm@value.net)

The Cocteau Twins (inventing the ethereal, ghostly sound at one end of the spectrum) is one of the ultimate shoegazer bands. The basic style is a flowing, but often dissonant, style of music which concentrates less on the song itself, but more the sound, which is often multi-layered. The vocals are usually kept in the background (Cocteau Twins, used them as another instrument), and so it's like listening to explosions of sound through layers of molasses. Anyway, in my opinion, the two definitive dream-pop albums are Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and Treasure by the Cocteau Twins. (afinney@ozonline.com.au)

the ethereal, mostly-incomprehensible-but-adored ones. (fleur)

Comments about live performance:

They were incredible live. (hrussell@bellsouth.net)

Recommended first album:

Head Over Heels. (dbx@aa.net)

My favorite album personally is Heaven or Las Vegas but Four-Calender Café comes in a close second with Blue Bell Knoll in third. Every one of their albums is unique in its own way while maintaining that Cocteau feel. You can't go wrong with any Cocteau album but I would suggest picking up the three already mentioned first. (JLeonard@st.ceu.edu)

I consider Four-Calender Café to be the weakest of their albums. Two of my favorite albums are Treasure and Victorialand. There used to be a 2-CD set of the Tiny Dynamine and Echoes in a Shallow Bay EPs which is quite good, too. Their early albums (Garlands and Head over Heels) are a bit rougher and more aggressive in texture and sound and are an acquired taste. (justicek@edge.ercnet.com)

well i suppose i can be restrained but when you say Cocteau Twins the first, last, best and always thing i think is Treasure. and yes i know it's so conVENtional and i'm not sure why no one said it already. and after you get Treasure go get everything else. ;) except maybe garlands. ok ok no i was kidding.... (winona@mildh.pair.com)

Even though I'm enjoying Head Over Heels most at present, I concur my favorite is Heaven Or Las Vegas. Treasure I haven't heard much of, but I'm not huge on it. (maeldun@i-2000.com)

My vote for best would be for Heaven Or Las Vegas followed by Treasure. They seem to me the most beautiful and the fullest realization of what their music is trying to be. I also liked Four-Calendar Café. (dbucak@netaxs.com)

Treasure would be hard to beat for "best album", in my opinion. (bye@humnet.ucla.edu)

I'd definitely have to go with all the other people who recommend Treasure as one of the Cocteau Twin's finest. (stevev@hexadecimal.uoregon.edu)

My favorite album will always be Treasure, but I also liked some of their more recent albums, like Four-Calendar Café. (hrussell@bellsouth.net)

Recordings:


Garlands

Release info:

1982—4AD (U.K.), Capitol (U.S.)—CDP-7-96415-2

Availability:

Widely available

Ecto priority:

Recommended. (dbx@aa.net)

Group members:

Robin Guthrie—guitar
Will Heggie—bass
Elizabeth Fraser—vocals

Produced by:

IVO/Cocteau Twins

Comments:

Hey! Who slipped this Siouxsie and the Banshees album in? Vocally and somewhat musically, this does sound like them. Still, their debut holds the basics of the Twins' sound—the lack of song structure and the (probably) meaningless vocals. The music sounded more electronic and spacey, with a noticeable beat. (dbx@aa.net)

Head Over Heels

Release info:

1983—4AD (U.K.), Capitol (U.S.)—CDP-7-96416-2

Availability:

Widely available

Ecto priority:

Must have. (dbx@aa.net)

Group members:

Elizabeth Fraser
Robin Guthrie
Simon Raymonde

Comments:

Elizabeth Fraser found her voice, giving a much stronger and more confident performance. On top of that, she had some stronger songs to work with. As usual, the songs had very little structure, but they included much stronger melodies, varied tempos, and a couple almost rocked. (dbx@aa.net)

It's harsh and powerful, cold and stunning. Makes my heart beat funny. (maeldun@i-2000.com)


Treasure

Release info:

1984—4AD (U.K.), Capitol (U.S.)—CDP-7-96418-2 (4AD/Capitol), CAD 412 CD (Original 4AD)

Availability:

Widely available

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended. (dbx@aa.net)

Group members:

Not listed on the album, but should be:
Elizabeth Fraser
Robin Guthrie
Simon Raymonde

Produced by:

Cocteau Twins

Comments:

Elizabeth Fraser's voice continues to grow in its quality, confidence, and innovation, with quite a bit of double-tracking. The songs themselves have quieted down, with a more consistent tempo and fewer melodies, nothing to reach out and grab you. For the first time, they skirted the line between music and sonic mush. Yet they generally kept on the right side of that line. (dbx@aa.net)

This is my absolute favourite Cocteau Twins album I own—I think it is essential. I particularly love the interaction between the instrumentation and Liz Fraser's voice on this album. (Neile)

After discovering that I really did like Cocteau Twins after all (Victorialand failed to impress me but Blue Bell Knoll did) I finally made it to the record store a couple of weeks ago to buy the much-recommended Treasure. After listening to it almost incessantly for two weeks now, I realized that an album that good has been out for THIRTEEN YEARS and I never really knew about it until now. I have learned not to doubt Ecto recommendations; now I just need to act faster on them :-) (stevev@hexadecimal.uoregon.edu)

A desert island disc for me. (bye@humnet.ucla.edu)


The Pink Opaque

Release info:

1986—4AD/Relativity—EMCD 8040 (U.S.), CD 513 CAD (U.K.)

Availability:

Widely available

Ecto priority:

High if you own no Cocteau Twins, medium otherwise.

Group members:

Elizabeth Fraser
Robin Guthrie
Simon Raymonde
Will Heggie

Produced by:

Cocteau Twins/IVO

Comments:

This is sort of a greatest hits and oddities disc. There's a re-mixed song from Garlands, tracks from Head Over Heels and Treasure, and stuff from eps and an NME compilation tape. I think it's a fantastic introduction to the Cocteau Twins, and it helped me survive when I could only find a few of the discs as imports. Since it plucks great songs from a variety of sources, I find it stronger than some of the original albums. (neal)

The Moon and the Melodies

Release info:

1986—4AD/Relativity—CAD 611 CD (Original 4AD)

Availability:

Widely available

Ecto priority:

Medium

Group members:

Harold Budd
Elizabeth Fraser
Robin Guthrie
Simon Raymonde

Produced by:

Budd/Fraser/Guthrie/Raymonde

Comments:

This album is not listed as a Twins album, and a quick listen shows why. It's got more of a fuzzy, washed out sound, with Budd's influence showing through pretty clearly. The result is an album that is more instrumental than the Cocteau's usually produce, and the mushiest thing they've come up with to date. Only a few songs feature vocals, and it's largely absent of any of the catchier elements I love in their music. This gives a hint of the direction they took on Victorialand, but that album has a strong Twins influence. (neal)

My favourite Cocteau Twins outing has got to be The Moon and the Melodies, the album they put out with American pianist Harold Budd. I'm not too much into Budd's generally new-agey stuff, but the mix was quite something. Beautiful stuff! (nkg@vcn.bc.ca)


Victorialand

Release info:

1986—4AD (U.K.), Capitol (U.S.)—CDP-7-96417-2 (4AD/Capitol)

Availability:

Widely available

Ecto priority:

Recommended. (dbx@aa.net)

Group members:

Robin Guthrie
Elizabeth Fraser
Simon Raymonde

Produced by:

Cocteau Twins

Comments:

Their music continued to soften and they wandered into mush too often. This album fades into the background too easily. The songs melt into each other. A very pleasant background, but a definite step down from their past. (dbx@aa.net)

Blue Bell Knoll

Release info:

1988—4AD (U.K.), Capitol (U.S.)—CDP-7-90892-2

Availability:

Widely available

Ecto priority:

Recommended. (dbx@aa.net)

Group members:

Robin Guthrie
Elizabeth Fraser
Simon Raymonde

Produced by:

Cocteau Twins

Comments:

This album melts into a single homogeneous whole, resembling sonic wallpaper too much, but improved tunefulness and vocal inventiveness pulled some songs above the mush. (dbx@aa.net)

Oh god YES. This is GREAT. (stevev@hexadecimal.uoregon.edu)


Box Set

Contents:

Lullabies—1982—4-A-D
Peppermint Pig—1983—4-A-D
Sunburst and Snowblind—1983—4-A-D
Pearly-Dewdrops' Drop—1984—4-A-D
Aikea-Guinea—1985—4-A-D
Tiny Dynamine—1985—4-A-D
Echoes in a Shallow Bay—1985—4-A-D
Love's Easy Tears—1986—4-A-D/Relativity
Iceblink Luck—1990—4-A-D/Capitol
Heaven or Las Vegas—1990—4-A-D/Capitol

Comments:

This box collects a mess of singles. Unfortunately, it just takes them and puts them all into one spot for about $60 (U.S.). I've never been willing to plop down that money, since the music would probably fit nicely onto two discs. I see it around pretty often though. (neal)

Heaven or Las Vegas

Release info:

1990—4AD (U.K.), Capitol (U.S.)—Cad 0012 cd [U.K.?], CDP-7-93669-2

Availability:

Widely available

Ecto priority:

High. (jbr@casetech.dk)

Recommended. (dbx@aa.net)

Group members:

Robin Guthrie
Elizabeth Fraser
Simon Raymonde

Produced by:

Cocteau Twins

Comments:

Dreamy, guitar-based rock augmented by floating vocals.... The album is a bit short (at least it seems so!), 37:46 minutes. (jbr@casetech.dk)

The Twins finally crawled out of the mush. Their music showed much more variety, melody, strong songwriting (albeit non-traditional song writing :) ), keeping more music in the foreground. Even English words were randomly sprinkled into the lyrics once more. Still too many of the songs didn't work for me, but that was more a matter of taste than quality. (dbx@aa.net)

The track "Frou-frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires" has to be my fave rave—Cocteau Twins at their best in my opinionin my opinion. Though when I hear that track I think more of dry swirling snow more than anything. (nkg@vcn.bc.ca)

A key dream-pop album. (afinney@ozonline.com.au)


Four-Calendar Café

Release info:

1993—Capitol (U.S.)—7-99375-2

Availability:

Widely available

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended. (dbx@aa.net)

Group members:

Robin Guthrie
Elizabeth Fraser
Simon Raymonde

Comments:

Primo. Eerie to actually understand lyrics (of course Heaven or Las Vegas foreshadowed that) but delicious anyway. (brianb@mooman.com)

This may be their best album. Musically, the Twins displayed abundant tunefulness, strong music, wide variety, occasionally upbeat, all outside traditional song structure. This album holds no mush, and several songs rank among the Twins' best. Lyrically, Fraser not only sings English words but complete sentences. Whether the songs hold a coherent message is still debateable, though the band hints that they do mean something, something rather dark, too. However, the lyrics are still deeply woven into the shimmering music and thus hard to follow. A damned excellent Cocteau Twins. (dbx@aa.net)

more of the same from the twins. (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)

A widely disparaged album, but one I think is just wonderful. I *do* think that Four-Calendar Café shows growth and difference, related to the previous entries in the Twins' back catalog. When I listen to Heaven or Las Vegas right after Four-Calendar Café, there are undeniable differences to my ear: Heaven or Las Vegas is somehow harder, with more of an edge; the aggressively electronic tempos are also drastically different form most of Four-Calendar Café's "dreaminess". (cinnamon@one.net)


Evangeline (single)

Release info:

1993—Capitol (U.S.)—DPRO-79259

Availability:

Unknown

Group members:

Robin Guthrie
Elizabeth Fraser
Simon Raymonde

Comments:

3-song single from Four-Calendar Café. (neal)

Snow (single)

Release info:

1994?

Comments:

A must-have...I was told this was deleted on the day of release and an instant collectors' item. Anyway, it's a thrill to hear Miss Fraser sing Christmas classics "Winter Wonderland" and "Frosty the Snowman." (talbotj@rferl.org)

"Frosty" can also be found on the Volume compilation Sharks Patrol These Waters (17046 92322). (neal)


twinlights ep

Release info:

1995—Capitol (U.S.)—2438-30548-2

Availability:

Wide on release

Ecto priority:

Guess it depends on how much Cocteau Twins you need.

Group members:

Elizabeth Fraser
Robin Guthrie
Simon Raymonde

Guest artists:

Phil Boyden—violin
Paul Costin—violin
Fiona Griffith—viola
Helen Thomas—cello

Produced by:

Cocteau Twins

Comments:

Sonically, it's even more acoustic than victorialand, including the addition of a piano! (or maybe a good synthesized piano.) very relaxed (though not mellow, if that makes any sense). one of the tracks is a rerecording of "pink orange red" in the new style, which is quite lovely. (woj@smoe.org)

I think it's pretty damn good. Very different than regular Cocteaus, which is what a lot of the folks on the 4AD mailing list are upset about (I guess). Mostly pianos and bass and incredible-as-usual vocals. Liz seems to be singing in English this time, with the exception of the acoustic "Pink Orange Red." (cinnamon@one.net)

really like this ep—it is far more acoustic-ish than their stuff usually is, sorta soothing a la victorialand. (clsriram@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)

i *really* like twinlights. it's dreamy like victorialand, but with acoustic piano instead of guitar. as for the lack of liz's mysterious vocal languages, well, that never was the clinching point for the band for me. i've never been a lyrics person, whether they are english, swahili or frasierian. far as i'm concerned, she is still singing nonsense to me. :) (woj@smoe.org)

Twinlights is very, very fragile, piano based and with a single voice, and indeed, it's strange to be able to make out what Liz is singing. Love the mood, it's very good to wake up to on a slow Sunday. Favourite track has to be the reworking of "Pink orange red", though I also miss the 'guitar-and-layered-vocals' wall of sound. (Marion)

I was very disappointed in Twinlights. The music was boring piano tinkling and you could actually understand the words! I much preferred the mysterious language of the earlier albums, into which you could project your own meanings. I hope this isn't the direction the Cocteau Twins are going in the future. (dbucak@netaxs.com)

On twinlights you can actually make out some words ;-). Otherwise (just listening to it), it's a bit too slow for my taste. (uli@zoodle.robin.de)


otherness ep

Release info:

1995—Capitol (U.S.)—2438-36240

Availability:

Wide on release

Ecto priority:

If you made it this far, you may as well buy it.

Produced by:

Cocteau Twins

Comments:

this is rather more ambient sounding than most of their past stuff, and i think it is just fab. some of the vocal layering recalls blue bell knoll era stuff, but the music is far weirder, and the layering of liz's voice on the remake of "Cherry-coloured funk" from heaven or las vegas (that sounds much better this way) is just amazing. and the packaging is really shiny. well, not actively shiny, just pretty and multicolored. (clsriram@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)

this album is pretty odd remixes of cocteau twins songs. atypical. offbeat. not sure i'll listen to this again unless my mind is altered. zero thumbs. (woj@smoe.org)

This and twinlights are two CD EPs from the Twins which explore new directions while retaining the base Cocteau Twins sound. Otherness is mainly the work of M. Anderson from Seefeel, which marks the first time in quite some time someone outside of the Cocteau Twins has remixed any of their work. Oh, and the acoustic version of "Pink Orange Red" is to die for. (cinnamon@one.net)

Otherness, well, it's ehmm...different. Not enough house to be house or danceable :-), but definitely not Cocteau Twins either. Don't think I'll listen to it much, though I found it less irritating when I listened to it the second time, so who knows what happens after a good couple of hearings? Couldn't get myself to listen to it again yet, though. :-) (Marion)

i love it. Otherness is not a normal Cocteau Twins release, it's a remix ep, and the remixes were done by Seefeel at that, which makes them a little, um, weird. i won't even try to describe Seefeel beyond what someone else once said: "Slowdive meets the Orb." so Otherness is pretty atypical, though still very Cocteau-flavored. (winona@mildh.pair.com)


milk & kisses

Release info:

1996—Capitol (U.S.)—7243 8 37049 2 7

Availability:

Wide

Group members:

Elizabeth Fraser
Robin Guthrie
Simon Raymonde

Produced by:

Cocteau Twins

Comments:

With Milk & Kisses, Cocteau Twins show their funky stuff on "Violaine", which also appears as a more techno/ambient tune on their 1995 "otherness EP. Milk & Kisses also features one more track from otherness and two that appear in a more "unplugged" style on the 1995 EP twinlights. Milk & Kisses finds theremin-voxed Liz Fraser more self-assured and more scrumptious than ever! (Violaine@juno.com)

Nice album but nothing spectacular. About what you'd expect from the Cocteau Twins. After the last two EPs I wasn't sure what to expect, but no real big departures in style here. (jjhanson@att.net)

after being disappointed by both twinlights (too fragile) and otherness (just not that interesting, except for the one song i liked a lot) i wasn't going to rush out and buy this one, but i was won over by in-store play. way better than i thought it would be. (dmw@mwmw.com)

the new Cocteau Twins album is fantastic. two songs from twinlights end up on the new album well revamped (not quite as piano/keyboard-ey). Half-gifts and Rilkean heart. more guitar-based cocteau twins like. more similar in vein to the last two albums than the muzaked-out piano version of twinlights. a great album throughout. (iflin@speakeasy.net)

Just about all I can say is "Wow". Milk and Kisses mixes the early drum-driven sound and the later ether-pop sound of the Twins very well. (Mostly) gone are the understandable lyrics and lack of multi-tracking. The songs seem rather hooky, as well. (cinnamon@one.net)

A return to the sound of Treasure. Not really a step forward, but that's ok, I could listen to this stuff happily for the next 20 years. (dbucak@netaxs.com)

I got the single "Violaine" Part 2—it's a 3-song single with the new songs "Smile" and "Tranquil Eye." They're both really pretty. Simple but (the second one is especially) lush, and mellow. It's a nice addition to a Cocteau Twins collection. (JoAnn Whetsell)


Tishbites Single

Comments:

There is a two-part single for "tishbite" which is one of the better songs on milk & kisses. two extra bsides per single, so 4 new tracks not on the album. pretty decent, though i like part 2 a little better i think than part 1. (iflin@speakeasy.net)

they are super-fabulous. there are only 2 additional songs on each, but i think they're worth it even at the import price. these eps, in addition to the otherness and twinlights eps, give me hope for the current direction of the band. it's a long way from Four-Calendar Café—these are much more innovative songs, with lots and lots of vocal layering. (clsriram@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)


BBC Sessions

Release info:

1999—Ryko—RCD10497

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Elizabeth Fraser, Robin Guthrie, Simon Raymonde

Produced by:

John Owen Williams, Dale Griffin, John Walters, Mark Radcliffe, Barry Andrews, Lis Roberts, Jim Lahat, Suzanne Gilfilian

Comments:

i've only listened to snippets so far, but i am so happy to have more cocteau twins. i was so disappointed when i heard they'd broken up. the few songs i've listened to also seem somehow rock/less ethereal, but still very ethereal, and that's an interesting side. i think the vocals are also a bit easier to understand. my only complaint is the lack of info (no real sleeve). But no complaints on the music! (JoAnn Whetsell)

This is a wonderful, highly listenable sampling of their work. Recommended! (Neile)


Further info:

Members of the band have been involved in This Mortal Coil, and Liz Fraser has sung with Massive Attack.


Thanks to Doug Burks, Jens P. Tagore Brage, Neal Copperman, and JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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