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Alternative & Indie - Released July 14, 2014 | 4AD

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Pitchfork: Best New Reissue
Deciding to scale back the overly pretty sound on Blue Bell Knoll while experimenting with more accessibility -- -- the Twins ended up creating their best album since Treasure. From the start, Heaven... is simply fantastic: on "Cherry-Coloured Funk," Guthrie's inimitable guitar work chimes leading a low-key but forceful rhythm, while Raymonde's grand bass work fleshes it out. Fraser simply captivates; her vocals are the clearest, most direct they've ever been, purring with energy and life. Many songs have longer openings and closings; rather than crashing fully into a song and then quickly ending, instead the trio carefully builds up and eases back. These songs are still quite focused, though, almost sounding like they were recorded live instead of being assembled in the studio. Due credit has to be given to the Cocteaus' drum programming; years of working with the machines translated into the detailed work here, right down to the fills. "Fifty-Fifty Clown," starting with an ominous bass throb, turns into a lovely showcase for Fraser's singing and Guthrie's more restrained playing. But the Twins don't completely turn their back on Knoll's sound; "Iceblink Luck," has the same lush feeling and a newfound energy -- the instrumental break is almost a rave-up! -- and everything pulses to a fine conclusion. There are many moments of sheer Cocteaus beauty and power, including the title track, with its great chorus, and two spotlight Guthrie solos: "Fotzepolitic," a powerful number building to a rushing conclusion, and the album-ending "Frou Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires." Possessing the same climactic sense of drama past disc-closers as "Donimo" and "The Thinner the Air," it's a perfect way to end a perfect album. ~ Ned Raggett
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Alternative & Indie - Released July 14, 2014 | 4AD

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
The first Cocteaus album to feature a full-band lineup since Treasure was also their first full studio record released in America, resulting from the group's stateside deal with Capitol. Much to longtime fans' surprise, the Twins in fact were much more content with Capitol than 4AD, hinting at their eventual full departure from that label. This was all well and good, but the trio's new inspiration didn't fully translate into their work, unfortunately. While Blue Bell Knoll has some striking moments that are pure Cocteaus at their best -- the opening title track is especially lovely with a keyboard loop leading into Fraser's ever-wonderful vocals, a light rhythm, and a great final Guthrie solo -- it's still the band's least noteworthy release since Garlands. The feeling throughout is of a group interested in dressing up older approaches that have served them well, but aren't as distinct; the quite-lush arrangements by Guthrie are fine but the songs are a touch more pedestrian. Blue Bell Knoll has enough initial steam, however, to ensure that there are reasons to listen, happily. "Athol-Brose" has the inspirational feel that the Twins can easily create. "Carolyn's Fingers," the clear album standout, is perhaps the strongest individual Cocteau song since "Aikea-Guinea," with Fraser singing against herself over a rough, hip-hop-inspired rhythm while Guthrie peels off a fantastic main guitar melody and Raymonde contributes some supple bass work. After that amazing opening, things slowly but surely slide back a bit; most of the rest sounds okay enough to listen to, but the heartgripping intensity that defines the Twins at their best isn't present. ~ Ned Raggett
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Alternative & Indie - Released July 26, 2004 | 4AD

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 19, 1988 | 4AD

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Alternative & Indie - Released November 1, 1984 | 4AD

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Alternative & Indie - Released July 17, 2015 | 4AD

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After having built up a considerable reputation in the U.K. and Europe, the Cocteaus first fully reached America via this compilation, cherry-picking some of the group's finest moments for this trans-Atlantic co-release between home label 4AD and then-stateside label Relativity. None of the ten tracks had been released in America before, but whoever assembled the release knew exactly what they were doing in terms of whetting appetites. The only absolute rarity on the disc was "Millimillenary," originally turning up on a compilation tape given away by New Musical Express. It's a fine number, recorded soon after Raymonde joined the group -- a good mix of the Cocteaus' instrumental lushness and Fraser's vocal acrobatics. The version of Garlands' "Wax and Wane" included here is slightly remixed and arguably even better than the original, bringing out everything a little more clearly and powerfully. A sage decision was the inclusion of all three tracks from the Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops EP; as flawless as that was, all deserved inclusion, while beginning the compilation with "The Spangle Maker" was also inspired. Other cuts include "Hitherto," "From the Flagstones," "Lorelei," and the then-recent single "Aikea-Guinea." Concluding with the similarly album-ending "Musette and Drums" from Head Over Heels, The Pink Opaque is a lovely taster for anyone wanting to discover the peerless early years of the Cocteaus. ~ Ned Raggett
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 31, 1983 | 4AD

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 14, 1986 | 4AD

With Raymonde taking a break to work on the second This Mortal Coil album, Fraser and Guthrie made up the Cocteaus for the first full-length follow-up to Treasure. Rather than trying for a full-band approach, Fraser and Guthrie instead created a much more simply beautiful effort, with a relaxed air to it. Rhythms are subtler, with bass and drum machine often totally eschewed in favor of Guthrie's delicate guitar filigrees and lush, produced textures. Fraser is, as always, in wonderfully fine voice; her words are quite indecipherable, but the feelings are no less strong for it. "Lazy Calm" starts things perfectly, as deep, heavily-treated guitar strums combine with a heavy flange and guest saxophone from Dif Juz member Richard Thomas. Other songs sparkle with a lovely vivaciousness. Far from being stereotypical arty music to sit around and be gloomy to, two pieces especially shine with a gentle energy: "Fluffy Tufts," with its many-layered ringing strings and Fraser's overdubbed vocals; and the joyful "Little Spacey," with a soft rhythm underlying more sheer electric loveliness. Guthrie adds heavy reverb and overdubbed lines to create the Cocteaus' wash on such songs as "Throughout the Dark Months of April and May" and "Feet Like Fins," the latter again featuring Thomas, this time on tablas. For all the sweet beauty of Victorialand, things end on a quietly dramatic note, but a dramatic one nonetheless. "The Thinner the Air" starts with treated piano and rather spooky guitar leads -- the mysterious soloing is especially wonderful -- while Fraser then sings with a slightly haunted feeling, concluding with slightly nervous wails. It's an unexpected but effective touch for this fine record. ~ Ned Raggett
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Alternative & Indie - Released February 10, 2003 | 4AD

Those hearing Garlands for the first time who only know the band's other material will likely be more than a little surprised. Whereas the typical vision of the Twins is of beautiful washes of sounds and exultant vocals from Fraser, on Garlands the trio is still only part of the way there. Instead, the best comparison points are to the Cure on Faith and Pornography, perhaps Metal Box-era PiL, a touch of Joy Division here and there -- in sum, deep, heavy mood verging on doom and gloom. Bassist Will Heggie, in the only full album he did with the Twins, clearly follows the Peter Hook/Simon Gallup style of low, ominous throb, while Guthrie's guitar work more often than not screeches loudly than shimmers. Fraser's singing has a starker edge, unsettling even at its most accessible, sometimes completely disturbing at other times. The strongest track, "Wax and Wane," has the trio creating a powerful but also surprisingly danceable track, the crisp drumbox beat working against Guthrie's compelling atmospherics and Fraser's vocal hook in the chorus. Beyond that and a couple of other moments, though, Garlands falters due to something the band generally avoided in the future -- overt repetition. Too many of the songs rely on a unified formula that rarely changes; one need only compare to the multiplicity of styles tried on Head Over Heels to see the difference. As a debut effort, though, Garlands makes its own curious mark, preparing the band for greater heights. ~ Ned Raggett
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Alternative & Indie - Released February 13, 2006 | 4AD

Even if it had been available only in a steel box stuffed with thousands of Styrofoam peanuts, Lullabies to Violaine would be a welcomed and indispensable part of Cocteau Twins' discography. In just about every way imaginable, the compilation outdoes the title-less ten-disc singles box released by 4AD in the early '90s. It certainly looks and feels different: the sturdy flip-top box of old housed the singles in individual jewel cases, while this set squishes most of the old contents, and then some, into four discs that are wrapped in a foldout package that seems to be made of an exotic wintertime plant, which is then encased in a rice-paper-like sheath. You'd be wise not to handle the thing more than a couple times. In fact, just to be cautious, you probably shouldn't stare at it too long. Completists might be miffed to discover that it is missing a few things that the old box did contain, such as the 12" mixes of "Peppermint Pig" and "Pearly Dewdrops' Drops," and the four tracks that appeared on a bonus disc. Robin Guthrie also substituted a couple alternate mixes, but as he argued on his weblog, it's not a big deal: "It's a singles and EPs record, all the singles are there, where is the f*cking problem?" (Well, here's one problem: "Millimillenary," a gorgeous track left to languish on the out-of-print The Pink Opaque, shouldn't have been excluded.) The old box covered the 4AD years and therefore held the singles through Heaven or Las Vegas. This one covers the same ground on the first two discs; discs three and four cover the remaining A-sides, B-sides, and EP tracks through Milk & Kisses (secretly the band's third or fourth best album). Since the Cocteaus typically put the same amount of energy into their singles and EPs as their albums, Lullabies to Violaine features a prolific sum of prime material. The sheer breadth of content is a major factor, but the set is, by a wide margin, the best way to hear how this band consistently developed and constantly switched tacks, from punishing and stark, to elegant and dense, and many places between. It also doesn't hurt that the sound is pristine, improving upon whatever murkiness was audible in the initial round of CD issues. You might call all of the content amorphous goop, but the Cocteaus covered a wide range of emotions with a large set of colors, no matter how blurred they were at times. In fact, "The Spangle Maker," with its tidal structure and mixture of dread and bliss, indicates this in less than five minutes. There are 59 tracks in all, and they're not all overflowing with dreamy exotic genius, but they do form the equivalent of six good-to-tremendous stand-alone albums. For the fans who didn't go any deeper than the studio albums, this will be almost exactly like falling in love with the band for the first time. [4AD also split this into two separate volumes.] ~ Andy Kellman
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Pop - Released January 1, 1993 | Virgin EMI

Cocteau Twins' first release following their exodus from the 4AD stable, Four-Calendar Café is also, tellingly, their most earthbound effort; as with Heaven or Las Vegas, the emphasis here is on substance as much as style -- "Evangeline," "Bluebeard," and "Know Who You Are at Every Age" continue the trio's advance into more accessible melodic and lyrical ground without sacrificing even an ounce of their trademark ethereality. ~ Jason Ankeny
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Alternative & Indie - Released July 17, 2015 | 4AD

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Originally, Tiny Dynamine and Echoes in a Shallow Bay were released as a pair of EPs in similar covers within a few months of each other in 1985; the songs were actually recorded during the same sessions, but the band wished to release them without the hoopla of a full album. This was probably a wise decision, as listening to the two EPs together on one CD, it's clear that these eight songs are a step down in quality from the inspired heights of Head Over Heels and Treasure. There's not much difference in sound between songs like "Pink Orange Red" and earlier gems like "Five Ten Fiftyfold," but there's a certain ethereal quality lacking in these recordings, a tiredness that suggests the Cocteau Twins had taken their early sound as far as they could go. (Unsurprisingly, their next release, 1986's Victorialand, was a complete departure.) That said, the Cocteau Twins' early sound was amazingly cool, and although they're lacking in invention, the thick atmospherics and swirling vocal melodies of their earlier records are here in spades. As background music, Tiny Dynamine/Echoes in a Shallow Bay works a treat; it's only when one pays closer attention that the disappointment sets in. ~ Stewart Mason
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 16, 2000 | 4AD

Stars and Topsoil collects some of the Cocteau Twins' better-known 4AD material, which ends at 1990, before their departure to Fontana in the U.K. and Capitol in the U.S. Outside of college radio support and some late-night MTV rotation, the Cocteaus were basically invisible and unheard of in the U.S.; in the U.K., they were a higher profile act, but they still remained more of a cult band with a rabid following. As a barometer for the unfamiliar more than anything else, the compilation will either lead to the purchase of the group's entire catalog or nothing more, because those who are familiar tend to fall into two distinct camps: There are those who find the group to be from the gods, and there are those who are in firm belief that they were birthed from the stinking pit of the precious art-fluff well. Though the Cocteaus never really repeated themselves, they held a set of characteristics throughout their discography that made them extremely unique -- characteristics that launched a legion of imitators. While the selection here is fairly representative, there still isn't a definitive first place to go with the Cocteaus. An era spanning seven LPs of studio material and nine singles is a good load to pick from, and this particular track listing is just one of hundreds a fan could come up with. The disc is just as quality as most other Cocteaus releases, though it obviously misses the feel of a proper studio album. Since 4AD began reissuing those studio works in 2003, devout fans will have little use for this overview. ~ Andy Kellman
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Pop - Released January 1, 1995 | Virgin EMI

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 2, 1984 | 4AD

The first Twins release with Raymonde on bass, The Spanglmaker simply nails it, a note-perfect slice of Twins life which acted as the best possible teaser for the band's follow-up effort, the peerless Treasure. The title track is the lead number, one of the Twins' most dramatic and captivating songs. Over Raymonde's low bass work and the rhythm pulse, Fraser sings an alternately commanding then captivating vocal. Guthrie's guitar follows its own course, creating drones and wails in the background, coming together with Fraser only on the chorus. The song concludes with a smashing full arrangement on the final chorus, the drums suddenly powered up high and the Twins' trademark mock choir effect putting it all together with a flourish. "Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops" isn't as immediately stunning, but it comes close, shimmering guitar lines, sparkling keyboard and piano and a measured pace backing a soaring Fraser take. The 12" version begins with a quieter opening, and at one point cuts down much of the instrumentation to let Fraser's voice come fully front and center, a lovely touch. "Pepper-Tree," in comparison, is lighter and relaxed, similarly paced but more content to aim for the beautiful rather than the full-on sublime. The combination of synth strings and ticking clock at the end make for a good conclusion. ~ Ned Raggett
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Alternative & Indie - Released November 1, 1982 | 4AD

The Twins' immediate follow-up to Garlands was something a little more energetic and just a touch friendlier all around, exchanging the album's sometimes trudging feeling for a more fun if still fairly moody set of three songs. "Feathers-Oar-Blades" has something of the rush of prime Siouxsie and the Banshees, often used by contemporaneous critics needing to compare the Twins to somebody. However, Fraser's vocals are her own gentle keening mystery, while Guthrie's rough guitar art and the rumbling punch of the drum machine equally have their own distinct appeal. "Alas Dies Laughing" uses heavy flanging much like Robert Smith did in his Cure recordings of the time to create a queasy, strange atmosphere; the song itself feels more like something that could have ended up on Garlands, but Fraser's more direct vocals mark it as a later performance. "It's All but an Ark Lark" concludes the EP, a lengthy fair enough mid-paced effort that fit in alongside many other Twins songs of the time, most notable for some of Guthrie's strong guitar work as the track progressed. ~ Ned Raggett
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Alternative & Indie - Released November 4, 1991 | 4AD

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 13, 1986 | 4AD

The band's first full trio recording without guests since Echoes in a Shallow Bay, Tears has the group in a slight holding pattern, though not without some songs of merit. The title track has good performances from Guthrie and Raymonde both on their instruments, the former creating one of his trademark crystalline feedback washes for the chorus, as Fraser's voice swoops and swirls throughout. "Those Eyes, That Mouth" is the definite winner of the bunch, with Fraser's work the key factor. Her up-and-down yelps and cries on the verses establish the basic feelings, while her sudden shift to a more soothing wash of exultance on the chorus is striking, accentuated by the equally surging music as the song fades up and out. "Sigh's Smile of Farewell" is close to being run-of-the-mill for the Twins, but it's still good stuff, Guthrie's guitar sounding like bells and Fraser in good voice as ever. "Orange Appled" concludes the proceedings with an understated but strong rhythm punch and a great vocal/chime combination on the chorus from Fraser and Guthrie. ~ Ned Raggett
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Alternative & Indie - Released March 4, 1985 | 4AD

The immediate follow-up to Treasure didn't match the effortless heights of that album, but still came darn close throughout, providing another brief, affecting precis of the trio at its best. The title track became another well-deserved Twins standard, a deceptively simple bass/guitar/drum combination driving away at its core, while Fraser sings beautifully over it all, matched by a swirl of Guthrie's production touches (piano, mock choir, and so forth). "Kookaburra" follows squarely in the path of faster Cocteaus tracks as "Because of Whirl-Jack," though here Fraser's vocals are more sweet and less dramatically piercing. Guthrie's guitar takes center stage here, starting the track with echoing swirls leading into the main riff. "Quisquose" puts piano up front as main accompaniment for one of Fraser's more adventurous vocals, mixing a high main lyric with a more free form performance set against it, calling to mind the slightly similar contrast in vocal takes on "Lorelei." The instrumental "Rococo" ends the EP with style, a quiet bass/percussion opening leading into one of Guthrie's trademark fusions of feedback, volume, and heavily-produced beauty. Raymonde's bass stands out strongly throughout as well, a fine combination. ~ Ned Raggett
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 13, 1986 | 4AD