More about: Cocteau Twins
From tiny-beanie clad internet softbois to middle-aged dads with receding hairlines, Cocteau Twins are a band close to all manner of hearts. Almost 25 years on from their untimely break-up, the Scottish shoegazers still occupy a substantial space in record collections, Spotify playlists and Tinder bios alike.
Part of the very fabric of 80s folklore, the band’s ethereal jabber put them at the epicentre of an entire generation of dream-pop. With their otherworldly sound and Elizabeth Fraser’s unparalleled allure, the band gained widespread commercial and critical success with eight studio albums, eleven EPs, and more compilations than we have time to count.
And with a discography that broad, there’s always going to be tracks that fall through the cracks: fluttering somewhere in an alt-rock ether, dredged up irregularly on very niche online forums, and rarely given the love they deserve. So, we took it upon ourselves to dive down a shoegaze-shaped rabbit-hole, and unearth 11 forgotten Cocteau’s tracks that deserve a little more airtime.
Named after a rather chaotic sounding Scottish delicacy— one part oatmeal, three parts whiskey and a dash of honey (it’s on our lockdown to-do list) — ‘Athol-brose’ is as rich and intoxicating as its namesake. Hailing from Blue Bell Knoll, the most overlooked of the band’s full-length records, multi-instrumentalist Simon Raymonde described the era as "a period of creativity and freedom". Hovering synths offer a bit more modernity than fans are used to, and there’s a definite sense of euphoric abandon that sets the track apart from the Cocteau’s usual output.
Ominous. Existential. At times, tender. The 1985 Aikea-Guinea B-side is a standard Cocteau’s hit, minus the vocals. Brash drum beats pound against careering, slightly-scratchy guitars, and I’m still yet to listen without jumping out of my skin every time the band’s token floaty melodies devolve into an apocalyptic, packed-to-the-rafters instrumental.
Recorded in a ‘big flash studio’ that the group bargained to get on the cheap, ‘Aikea-Guinea’ glistens with chaotic phosphorescence. With a ghostly ambience that feels like the musical equivalent of a sprawling Gothic cathedral, Fraser’s haunting vocals seem a little bit holy. And Robin Guthrie himself has flagged the track as "so underrated". "It’s brilliant," he said, "it pisses over most things we’ve ever done."
Written by Guthrie and Raymonde just before the latter’s official inauguration into the band, the hypnotic ‘Millimillenary’ is one of the most elusive tracks of the bands’ discography. Initially only available on an NME mail-order cassette compilation, the three minute chorale is a subtle forerunner to the critically acclaimed ‘Heaven or Las Vegas.’ Catatonic, dream-pop rhythms are underscored by steady drum-machine beats, and Fraser’s circling, incoherent mutterings are as enticing as ever.
‘Wax and Wane’
A little bit heavier than the rest of their discography— and marred maybe by a slight tinge of debut-album-apprehension— Garlands is rarely given as much love as the band’s later output. Lying on the fault lines between neo-Victorian whimsy and sullen post-punk angst, ‘Wax and Wane’ is testimony to the band’s early allure. Will Heggie’s foreboding bassline and Guthrie’s ever-so-slightly menacing guitar scratches are undercut by ominous, pulsating percussion, and Fraser is a slightly more guttural version of her usual bewitching self. Abyssal and overcast, the track is an infernal introduction to the band’s alt-rock reverie.
Described by fans as a ‘great soundtrack to a bad movie,’ ‘Need Fire’ was recorded exclusively for Danny Cannon’s 1995 sci-fi adventure Judge Dredd. Almost entirely inaudible in the film itself, the track lies at the more experimental end of the Cocteau’s spectrum. Brooding electronic beats, cataclysmic percussion and ritualistic vocals update the band’s sound for Cannon’s futurist age.
Fraser’s characteristic vocals are perhaps at their best as they coalesce with the all-consuming atmosphere of this 1996 B-side. Released into the aftermath of the band’s final studio album Milk & Kisses, the track is devastating and delirious. With gentle drum-machine beats keeping the pace and a methodical sonic maelstrom constructed around Fraser’s tongue-tied lyricism, ‘Circling Girl’ leaves very little to be desired.
Profoundly dealing with the lynching of African Americans in the Jim Crow era United States, Billie Holliday first performed ‘Strange Fruit’ in 1954, in the face of grave personal and political backlash. Countless musicians have taken a bash at covering the famed track since and, frankly, very few have managed to pull it off. Ever the exception to the rule, Cocteau Twins respectfully accomplished the task. Evoking Holliday’s same sorrow-soaked emotion almost thirty years on, the track is perhaps just as urgent in our current day as it was way back when.
If a Cocteau Twins hit was a cocktail, ‘Orange Appled’ added a bit too much vodka and shook a bit too hard. Featured on the 1991 re-release of Love’s Easy Tears— and high off the back of the success of Heaven or Las Vegas— the track sees the band at their ethereal best. Intoxicated jangling synths meddle with Fraser’s sensual spiel, and a quick listen feels a bit like the cloudy rush to the head you get when you stand up too fast. ‘Coming-of-age-film-chic’ feels a bit reductive, but it’s hard to believe ‘Orange Appled’ hasn’t been snapped up by an indie director for a clichéd driving-with-the-roof down scene yet.
Another album that was much deprived of the appreciation it deserved, Four-Calendar Café, and its marked departure from the band’s signature sound, was largely written off as the product of major-label influence. "The fact we’d jumped ship," said Raymonde, "and we were on the other side, with the enemy, on a major label. I think people were sort of like, ‘Oh, that can’t be any good’." The stylistic shift on lead single ‘Evangeline’ is pronounced, but that doesn’t make it the weak string in the Cocteau’s bow. Whirling, slightly sea-sick sonic layers characterise the track, and Fraser’s vocals— while more coherent and confessional than ever— embellish dreamy percussion in the way fans all know and love.
‘Touch Upon Touch’
The last song the band ever released, ‘Touch Upon Touch’ is a fitting epilogue to the Cocteau Twins book. Stripping down on their famed instrumental density, gauzy vocals shimmer against a barren sonic landscape, and the tension is so thick not even Fraser’s penetrating twangs can cut it. It’s sensual. It’s heartbreaking. It’s prophetically bereft. And, if there was ever going to be a ninth Cocteau Twins album, this was perhaps a glimpse of what was to come.
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More about: Cocteau Twins