I was listening today to the Cocteau Twins. They were a band that came out of the post punk scene in the U.K., but they carved a very different path than many of their contemporaries. They hailed from Scotland. They are somewhat similar to The Cure in that they created reverb drenched dreamscapes, but they were much more abstract and lacking The Cure’s penchant for abrasive gloom. Some of the earlier Cocteau Twins stuff has some gothic undertones, but even then it is often quite beautiful. It kind of seems a cliché now to say it, but listening to them you can easily imagine yourself in some enchanted forest.
The thing that truly sets the Cocteau Twins apart from other bands is the ethereal voice of Elizabeth Fraser. She was singing in a way that was largely nonverbal long before it became trendy in the indie world. Although at times she sang nonexistent words, it really had more to do with her style than anything. Even when she sings in plain English it becomes lost in translation. Her voice becomes an instrument of pure emotion. Where often singing that obscures the words can be a crutch, a way to hide the fact that one has nothing to say; her singing is powerful enough to allow the listener’s imagination to fill in the gaps. This is a beautiful sounding instrument. One imagines that she was an opera singer in some other lifetime.
The band backs her up in a way that is full of empathy. They create the perfect bed for her voice to rest upon. However, their music is not art rock in the sense that it is something to be appreciated more than loved. There music is not purely intellectual. Melodies still come to the forefront that are as catchy as any pop song. If I was to think of a visual representation for what they do I would use impressionistic painting. There is enough detail there to connect with the song, but it is blurry enough to give one a different view into what a pop song can be.
Unlike a lot of the post-punk stuff that came out of the U.K. their work can be appreciated on a beautiful sunny day as well as a rainy one. I’ve gone on walks on both kinds of day and felt reality heightened just a little around me. There are some that might call this painterly approach to music pretentious, but there is nothing pretentious about creating something that creates strong emotions. Emotions by their very nature are abstract. Although the Cocteau Twins will leave you plenty to think about, they are band that makes you feel first.
If you are interested in checking them out I would recommend their best of which is called Stars and Topsoil. I don’t usually recommend compilations as a place to start, but this is a really excellently sequenced one. Although they changed sounds over the course of their career, their different periods sit nicely next to each other. Also, unlike most pop music that can eventually be figured out, their music will always remain somewhat mysterious due to its nature so that you will not tire of it. It is as good of a place to start as any and it will allow you to see the different shades of their career, while also playing like a great record in its own right.