Cocteau Twins made some of the most unique music of all time. I could hear a two second clip from any song in their catalog and know instantly who it is. This is the only dream pop band that sounds like it came from actual dreams. People tend to love everything they’ve done, or nothing at all. I’ve been addicted for years.
At the center of that iconic sound is Elizabeth Fraser’s ethereal, incomprehensible vocals. Her voice is so expressive and inscrutable, it conveys worlds of emotion and narrative without the crutch of recognizable vocals. Concrete words float to the surface now and then, throwing the mood into sharp relief. Most of the time, we’re floating along a string of syllables, interlocking melody and tone without language. It’s a real life special effect.
Here’s the title track from their greatest album, Heaven or Las Vegas.
One thing that stands out with this track is the fact that I can actually make out a portion of the lyrics, including the title phrase. It’s a rare moment of total clarity that crystalizes the punchier sound they were going for on their final release for the legendary 4ad label.
Heaven or Las Vegas mutated the band’s somnambulant drift with crisper, more overtly electronic production that, to me, teased out the inherent chest-pounding catchiness of their best songs. It’s not exactly club music, but the technicolor dynamic is far better suited for high volume enjoyment with friends.
The band, including guitarist and producer Robin Guthrie and bassist Simon Raymonde, always created a consciousness-defying, holistic sound. Listening to their albums is like hearing a single living instrument more than a group of actual humans working together. With this album, they cranked up the saturation and surrendered to the groove.
Who have I got to thank for this great musical love? Probably Gregg Araki, director of weird and weirdly tender masterpieces like Mysterious Skin and Nowhere. His aesthetic runs all over the place, sometimes feeling like nihilistic Looney Tunes, but every single one of his films are tied together with perfect dream pop and shoegaze soundtracks. For the last 25 years, Araki has introduced millions of people to the joys of Slowdive, Ride, Jesus and Mary Chain, and of course Cocteau Twins. While I can’t pinpoint exactly where I first heard this Scottish trio, it’s a safe bet that one of my teenage VHS rentals contained a song or two.
This is how I celebrate black Friday: staying in, writing, and listening to old favorites. Seeing some friends later. I’ve done buy nothing day for years now, so it’s usually like this. If you’re out and about in the shopping madness reading this, plug your headphones in and enjoy the oasis. If not, you’re probably already relaxing in your own way. For me, there’s few artists better suited for a peaceful day.