FLASHBACK: Cocteau Twins

There’s never been a better time than now to take a trip back to the musical landscape of the 80s and early 90s, and in particular to the COCTEAU TWINS, with artists such as GRIMES and BEACH HOUSE generating the buzz that they are. The legacy of the COCTEAU TWINS is its influence, however subtle, on these lush dream-pop-esque soundscapes that have surfaced in recent years.

With a musical career spanning close to two decades and an impressive discography, COCTEAU TWINS made a mark on the indie scene with their innovative instrumentation and the haunting vocals of Elizabeth Fraser. Their sound is marked by distorted guitars, fuzzed-out vocals and looped synths. Fraser’s distinctively stratospheric vocals appear on classic MASSIVE ATTACK tune ‘Teardrop’. The COCTEAU TWINS’ ethereal sound shares characteristics with shoegaze and synth pop, and along with artists such as SIGUR ROS have spawned a so-called sub-genre ‘nu-gaze’.

The Scottish band achieved mainstream success late in their career, with the 1990 release of Heaven Or Las Vegas. One of my favourites appears on this album, ‘Cherry-Coloured Funk’, and features their trademark fuzzy, distorted guitar riffs and layered vocals.

Another standout song is ‘Alice’, which appears on the soundtrack to 2009 thriller The Lovely Bones. A segue to another associated project is appropriate here, as members of the TWINS have collaborated with supergroup THIS MORTAL COIL. The latter band was led by Ivo Watts-Russell, who founded the TWINS’ label 4AD. Other notable artists signed to 4AD include THE NATIONAL and BON IVER. THIS MORTAL COIL‘s haunting cover of ‘Song To The Siren’ was performed by Guthrie and Fraser and also appears in The Lovely Bones.

Indeed the similarities with their predecessor may not be incidental, as BEACH HOUSE have released all four of their LPs through Bella Union, an independent record label that was started by two members of the COCTEAU TWINS, Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie. Similar artists that have signed with Bella Union are I BREAK HORSES and DECODER RING.

There has been a resurgence of dream-pop, synthpop, chillwave, nu-gaze and ambient music from the likes of WASHED OUT and TORO Y MOI, and aforementioned artists. When we look back to the origins of this atmospheric, downtempo sound, we find that the COCTEAU TWINS led the way.

Words by Rebecca McCann.


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