Just like some people have “comfort food,” I’ve got “comfort bands” and “comfort albums” — bands and albums that I return to time and again and have proven to stand the test of time. Sometimes, in my pursuit of finding the latest and greatest, I forget about them. But I inevitably return to them, tired and burned out from the trends, buzz, and effort associated with that particular pursuit, and I come away inspired, invigorated, and redeemed.
For example, even 20 years later, U2’s first three albums — Boy, October, and War — still sound more vital and passionate than most “current” indie-rock I hear these days. There’s an energy and urgency to those albums, which are only added to by the band’s youth, naïveté, idealism, and rawness. Same goes for the first Cure releases — every time I hear Faith (easily the band’s most underrated album, and one that deserves a blog entry all its own someday) or Pornography, I realize that, for all of the followers the band has acquired, none of them come anywhere close to these albums.
And speaking of followers, few bands have acquired as many acolytes as Cocteau Twins. Seriously… every band that employs gossamery guitars and ethereal vocals owes, at the very least, a karmic debt to Robin Guthrie, Simon Raymonde, and Liz Fraser. The shadow that the trio cast over the dreampop/shoegazer/ethereal pop arena is so huge it’s pointless to even try and measure it. Comparing bands in those genres to the Cocteau Twins is so obvious, it’s essentially a given, and there’s no point in trying to escape it.
How did this totality begin? Simply put, Cocteau Twins really were that good. Liz Fraser’s voice is a thing of singular beauty. Fraser is certainly not alone in having a beautiful voice, but put any similar female vocalist next to here, and it quickly becomes apparent who is the greater. Fraser’s voice contains an amazing range — tonally and emotionally. Her voice contains both child-like playfulness and adult sensuality, both softness and harshness, the ability to soar gracefully and all angel-like and the ability to zero in with a burning intensity.
Then there’s Robin Guthrie’s guitar sound. No matter how many folks out there employ countless guitar pedals, there’s such a distinctiveness to Guthrie’s sounds and melodies that it’s impossible to replicate. I find it impossible to mistake Guthrie’s crystalline, shimmering melodies, as well as his unique production, for anyone else’s. You hear it once, and regardless of whether it’s a song Guthrie is actually playing on or he simply produced, and it’s impossible to not hear his touch on it.
But when you combine those two things — Fraser’s voice and Guthrie’s sound — and add to it Raymonde’s basslines and the so-out-of-place-it’s-absolutely-perfect drum machine programming, the result is music so perfectly realized that it’s practically a genre all its own (something that 4AD Records sometimes seems doomed to never be rid of).
All of this came readily to mind while listening to the twelve songs on 4AD’s mini-site for the release of the two-disc Lullabies To Violaine, a collection of all of the band’s non-album tracks (requires RealPlayer 10). All of the tracks streaming there are gorgeous, especially “Iceblink Luck” (from what might be my fave Twins release, Heaven or Las Vegas), “Evangeline,” and “Bluebeard.” I’ve listened to many of these songs many times, and yet they always feel fresh and vital to me, not to mention staggeringly beautiful — something I find comfort in time and again, even after all these years.