Although, much of their material is very beautiful indeed, those only familiar with The Cocteau Twins later work, by which time they’d evolved into what eventually became known as Dream Pop, may well find them difficult to reconcile with anything particularly post-punkish. As with so many other groups, the answer of course requires a trip back to their earlier releases.
Scotland seems not to have produced too many Goth acts back in the day, in fact the only other obvious example that comes to mind is Twisted Nerve with whom Cocteau Twins have approximately nothing in common.
None of this however would stop Cocteau Twins come swirling out of Grangemouth in 1979 with a near-ambient sound that was quite new to any territory post-punk had previously ventured into.
It would be a good three years before their debut album, Garlands would emerge, but when it did, what a beast it was.
Dark. Ambient. Trippy. Dominated by Elizabeth’s haunting vocals that would often just go off doing their own thing, often venturing into lands of glossolalia and neologism. Although “Blood Bitch”, “Wax and Wane” and “But I’m Not” all make an immediate impact on the listener, the entire album is universally engaging, so it seems curious that there were no singles released. Never fear though! Although there may be no official video clips, a rather talented Youtube denizen known as Shum65 has put together a large number of very well made amateur clips whose style suits the Cocteaus perfectly and which we present here to all young boys and girls by way of illustration.
Wax and Wane
But I’m Not
Blind Dumb Deaf (Live version - John Peel Session)
Shallow Then Halo
It’s interesting to reflect on how the Garlands album marked something of a change in direction for album label 4AD which until just a year earlier had been producing quite aggressive post-punk albums like In the Flat Field and Mask by Bauhaus. The also very strong Cocteau Twins’ Lullabies EP followed later that year.
Indeed, Cocteau Twins in their earlier years were actually quite prolific, swiftly rolling out Head Over Heels (4AD, 1983), Sunburst and Snowblind (4AD, 1983), the Peppermint Pig EP (4AD, 1983) which even the band admitted was “shit…a bad mixture, bad song, bad producer, bad band”, Treasure (4AD, 1984) and the immaculate Aikea-Guinea EP (4AD, 1985) as well as a number of singles. For those who just wanted to dip their toes rather than dive right in, much of the best from this early period can be sampled on the extremely fine compilation The Pink Opaque (4AD, 1985).
After this, Cocteau Twins and label 4AD would begin to drift further away from post-punk into ever more ambient territory and more into what would eventually become known as Dream Pop. Along with fellow 4AD label mates Dead Can Dance they would become almost totally responsible for forming the roots of the Goth spin-off genre known as Ethereal Wave.
Throughout the 90’s there were just so many of these type of dark ambient bands; Black Tape For A Blue Girl, Lycia, Love Lies Crushing, et al. more often than not, through the Projekt label. To be quite honest, I never really cared (with the possible exception of Love is Colder Than Death) for this type of Gothic elevator music, but I do love the Cocteaus, and to be fair, when was the last time you released an album that unleashed an entire sub-genre?
I should stop here, but their big indie track “Ice-Blink Luck” from the Heaven or Las Vegas album (4AD, 1990) continues to haunt alternative dance floors every so often, so perhaps we’ll close with the beauty of this.
Ice Blink Luck
1. Blood Bitch
2. Wax and Wane
3. But I’m Not
4. Blind Dumb Deaf
5. Shallow Then Halo
6. Hollow Men
8. Grail Overfloweth
Many later re-issues on CD post 1987 also include tracks from the 1983 John Peel Session including Dear Heart, Hearsay Please, Hazel, Blind Deaf Dumb, Speak No Evil, Perhaps Some Other Aeon.
Line Up: Elizabeth Fraser (vocals), Robin Guthrie (guitar, drum machine), Will Heggie(bass)