Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Fraser’

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On the surface, this isn’t as essential a release as other BBC John Peel sessions LPs. Because the Cocteau Twins used drum machines, the backing tracks and the rhythms replicate the known versions much more than other bands forced to record live in the studio. Yet these BBC John Peel Sessions is still a whopper of a treat for fans and the uninitiated, A sound that builds and builds until one is overcome with unspeakable, barely understood emotions  as Elizabeth Fraser starts to blossom into one of the most riveting voices to ever blow air into a mic.

The original members were Elizabeth Fraser (vocals), Robin Guthrie (guitar, drum machine) and Will Heggie (bass guitar), who was replaced by Simon Raymonde (also bass guitar) early in the band’s career.
These BBC Sessions were released as an an album of BBC studio recordings by the band The Cocteau Twins released in 1999 by Bella Union in the UK and Rykodisc in the US. The album spanned the band’s career from the early 1980s through the 1990s. Taken from a series of early 1980s Peel sessions. Throughout most of the Eighties, Peel made favourable comments on the band in interviews.

The band were discovered by Peel when they sent demo tapes to him and the 4AD label. After hearing the demo, Peel invited the group to do a session for his show in 1982. The 4AD label heard the track and signed them. Peel would play their songs throughout most of the Eighties, although by the time the band released their 1988 ‘Blue Bell Knoll’ album, his interest appeared to have waned. At the end of 1988, Peel’s listeners voted their track ‘Carolyn Fingers’ in the 1988 Festive Fifty, despite the DJ not playing any tracks from the album throughout the year.

John Peel Session, 15th July 1982

“Alas Dies Laughing” – 3:29
“Feathers-Oar-Blades” – 2:19
“Garlands” – 4:19
“Wax and Wane” – 3:50

John Peel Session, 31st January 1983

“Hearsay Please” – 4:23
“Dear Heart” – 3:37
“Blind Dumb Deaf” – 3:41
“Hazel” – 3:22

John Peel Session, 4th October 1983

“Strange Fruit” (Billie Holiday cover written by Abel Meeropol) – 1:52
“From the Flagstones” – 3:
“The Tinderbox (Of A Heart)” – 4:46
“Hitherto” – 3:57

In 1984 Peel included ‘From The Flagstones’ by the Cocteaus in his selections for “My Top Ten” and discussed the band with Andy Peebles. Cocteau Twins – From the Flagstones .Well, this is my favourite record of last year. And they were one of those bands again, like when I first heard them I thought, “Great, I’m glad I lived long enough to hear this.” My favourite record of last year, The Cocteau Twins and From The Flagstones. It’s a very, very pleasant voice actually. I like listening to that. Well, I like the extreme voices. I was just thinking that. Over the years it has always been people who have got the really idiosyncratic voices that I like Beefheart, Marc Bolan, Rod Stewart, Elizabeth Frazer of the Cocteaus, Mark Smith of The Fall people like them.

John Peel Session, 5th September 1984

“Pepper Tree”
“Whisht [Beatrix]”
“Peep-Bo [Ivo]”
“Otterley”

Cocteau Twins The Spangle Maker

The Spangle Maker EP

The addition of Raymonde in 1983 solidified their final line up, which produced The Spangle Maker EP (containing their biggest hit in their native United Kingdom, “Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops”, For a band with a reputation for being esoteric, the Cocteau Twins have crafted some truly memorable, rousing choruses; for example, “Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops”, with its joyous refrain of ‘dizzy, dizzy, dizzy, paddy, paddy, paddy, bicycle and tulips-eh’, or something.

Cocteau Twins Lullabies

Lullabies EP

“Feathers Oar Lands” from follow-up EP Lullabies stands up a lot better. Is that… a riff? A muscular bass-line? Are the Cocteau Twins rocking out? Yes – and I love it. It’s perhaps the only Cocteau Twins song you could start a mosh pit to, albeit a fey, wistful one. You also hear Elizabeth Fraser sounding kind of aloof, which makes for an interesting contrast with her later, more earnest, style.

Cocteau Twins atmosphere is unmistakably present. The bass and drums are the main drivers of this atmosphere. The guitar and vocals are almost like fluttery accents, swirling in and out through the background.

In 1983, the band released a second EP, “Peppermint Pig”, the eponymous title track of an 1983 EP, also sounds surprisingly aggressive. Given how dreamy their later output is, it’s easy to forget that The Cocteau Twins emerged in a post-punk context, but here it’s really apparent. It sounds like Siouxsie and the Banshees, if that’s what you’re into.

Head Over Heels

“Head over Heels” (1983)

The band’s next full-length LP record, Head over Heels, relied solely on the latter two, following Heggie’s amicable departure after the tour that followed the release of Peppermint Pig This led to the characteristic Cocteau Twins sound: Fraser’s voice, by turns ethereal and operatic, combined with increasingly effects-heavy guitar playing by Guthrie (who has often said that he is far more interested in the way the guitar is recorded than in the actual notes being played, though he later admitted that his reliance on effects and layering was initially due to his own technical limitations). Opening track When Mother Was Moth sets the tone, with a slow drum machine drenched in improbable amounts of reverberation and Liz Frazer cooing strange nothings over the top. The effect is magical if you’re hearing it for the first time in 2009. In between this and the closing Musette and Drums is a sequence of often brilliant tunes. Some, like the single Sugar Hiccup are sedate and almost poppy, whilst the fabulously titled Glass Candle Grenades and Tinderbox of a Heart are of the more swirly and adventurous variety.

There is not one duff track on the whole LP, and it all culminates in the simply incredible Musette and Drums. A looping, dramatic guitar phrase underpins one of Liz Frazer’s strongest vocal performances on a killer melody. Robin Guthrie tops even this with a rare screaming guitar solo that sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard before or since – barely a recognisably melodic note in it, yet full of intense drama, angst and melancholy. It still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Elizabeth Frazer is one of the most influential vocalists in rock history, and the band that she fronted was at the forefront of one of the many psychedelic-rock genre offshoots – ‘dream-pop’. Frazer consciously appropriated the voice as an instrumental appendage. The Cocteau Twin’s melodies are sublime which Frazer delivers by way of an ethereal and other-wordly contralto. Frazer’s ‘voice instrument’ is wrapped in layer upon layer of Robin Guthrie’s shimmering oneiric guitar and keyboard lines.

“Head Over Heels’  blends celestial singalonds, middle-eastern psalms, majestic spirituals, vibrant melismas, tinkling guitars and neo-classical keyboards. Cocteau Twins‘ songs exhibited the levity and grace of madrigals but also the gloom and pomp of requiems. The dream-pop of the Cocteau Twins shares the contemplative quality and the passion for textures with ‘shoegazing’ bands like ‘Slowdive’ and ‘My Bloody Valentine’, but diverges from this genre in terms of both narrative development and emotional intensity.

Cocteau Twins Sunburst And Snowblind

Sunburst and Snowblind (1983)

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“Treasure (1984)

Taken from 1984’s Treasure LP, “Ivo” is so grand and operatic that it becomes slightly farcical, an effect not helped by the almost yodel-like backing vocals. Still: it’s great. Please forgive me but I have also included their partly terrible, partly charming cover of “Frosty the Snowman”. If nothing else, it’s a testament to the fact Cocteau Twins don’t take themselves too seriously.

I haven’t discussed the album Treasure much but it’s a lot of people’s favourite and when you listen to “Lorelei” you can understand why.; I once heard someone describe it as “what falling in love sounds like”, which is as good a description as any. There’s a deeply poignant emotional intensity to it – it would also be a great soundtrack for a heartbreak.

Cocteau Twins Aikea-Guinea

Aikea-Guinea (1985)

Tiny Dynamine / Echoes in a Shallow Bay (1985)

The Cocteau Twins‘ record company 4AD put this out, a pairing of two of their best mid-eighties EPs . However, in 2006 they released two double-CD sets which comprehensively collected single and EP material covering the band’s entire career from 1982 to 1996. Lullabies to Violaine volume 1 contains all of the music on this CD — in the same track order, even — plus 25 other songs recorded between 1982 and 1990.

As for the songs, well… if you’re at all interested in finding out what the Cocteau Twins were about, then you will want to hear these eight tracks one way or another. I think these two EPs mark the point where the band really began to come into their own unique musical sound — from this point on, for about five years, pretty much everything they touched turned to gold. They had clearly moved on from their early post-punk clumsiness and were really learning how to use sound in the studio. From the ambient soundscapes of ‘Pink Orange Red’ through to the tribal drum patterns and symphonic sweep of ‘Pale Clouded White’, it’s pure Cocteau Twins magic. ‘Melonella’, my favourite track, showcases Liz Fraser’s euphoric glossolalia technique like nothing else I’ve ever heard (here, she seems to be incanting in something vaguely related to Latin). Nobody else could have made this music.

“Victorialand” (1986)

Victorialand released the same year as The Moon and the Melodies, is a stripped-back affair in which Cocteau Twins‘ characteristically expansive soundscapes are often reduced to Fraser’s vocals and a single guitar line. From the former album, it’s remarkable how fresh “Why Do You Love Me” still sounds. With its wailing, siren-like feedback, it reminds me of Mica Levi’s soundtrack Under the Skin.  Victorialand, was Cocteau Twins’ fourth album, was released in spring 1986. The largely acoustic, non-percussive album was made with Elizabeth and Robin, while Simon was working on This Mortal Coil’s second album. Dif Juz label mate Richard Thomas guested on tabla and saxophone. The Guardian said “It’s not quite ambient, but it’s definitely not rock’n’roll even by the Cocteaus’ standards, building on the moments of guitar shimmer from the previous years’ EPs, while also stripping back at points to where it’s nothing but a Guthrie guitar line and Fraser’s voice.”

Raymonde temporarily left the band during the recording of their fourth album, Victorialand. For the 1986 album Victorialand Fraser said, “The lyrics are words I’ve found by going through dictionaries and books in languages I don’t understand. The words don’t have any meaning at all until they’re sung.” In fact, her unique method of songwriting derived in large part from a lack of confidence in her ability to write conventionally: “Looking back, [it] was a tool to help get things out. I didn’t have the confidence just to sit down and write something. I was always running away from that.”

Victorialand, was the Cocteau Twins’ fourth album, was released in the spring of 1986. It’s largely acoustic, non-percussive album. The Guardian said “It’s not quite ambient, but it’s definitely not rock’n’roll even by the Cocteaus’ standards, building on the moments of guitar shimmer from the previous years’ EPs.

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“Blue Bell Knoll” (1988)

In 1988, Cocteau Twins signed with Capitol Records in the United States, distributing their fifth album, Blue Bell Knoll, through a major label in the country. My all-time favourite Cocteau Twins song, “Carolyn’s Fingers”. In its final chorus, two different Fraser vocal lines are laid on top of each other to create one of most exquisitely yearning sounds I’ve ever heard.I defy you to watch the intense sincerity on Fraser’s face (she’s decked out in a prim Victorian gown which makes it even more endearing) and not be moved. There’s an intense vulnerability and earnestness to her performance; at times she seems to flinch from the camera, but there’s a suggestion of joy, too. “Carolyn’s Fingers” speaks to me of endurance, hope and rebirth – which is, of course, pure speculation.

The brilliance of Cocteau Twins is that they capture the lightness of dreams. Their pop sound is like they’ve dipped into your reveries and are playing them back to you. By the time Blue Bell Knoll, the Scottish band’s fifth album, came out in 1988, they had cemented this meld of glittery guitars and avian vocals, this talent for finding pure white in the black abyss of goth. This album, however, was their first significant U.S. release, introduced with their bewildering single “Carolyn’s Fingers.” On it, Elizabeth Fraser’s words are impossible to understand: Either they’re being spoken in another tongue, or you’ve temporarily developed aphasia and can’t compute them. Throughout the record, the trio strip back to their basic groundwork of bass-guitar melodies, a pattern they’d continue on Heaven or Las Vegas two years later. Blue Bell Knoll is not as dynamic a listen as that masterpiece, but its exploration of widescreen space is essential, and set down the canvas for glorious colors to come.

“Heaven or Las Vegas” (1990)

After the 1990 release of their most critically acclaimed album, Heaven or Las Vegas, the band left 4AD Records for Fontana Records, where they released their final two albums. The group released Heaven or Las Vegas in late 1990. The most commercially successful of their many recordings, the album rose to the higher reaches of the UK Albums Chart immediately after its release.

Despite the success of the record and the subsequent concert tours, not everything was well with the band. They parted ways with 4AD following Heaven or Las Vegas partly because of conflicts with the label’s founder Ivo Watts-Russell, and were close to breaking up over internal problems due in large part to Guthrie’s substance abuse. “Heaven or Las Vegas”, which was their biggest hit. It’s extremely accessible and probably the best place to start if you’re a complete novice to the band.

While on their international tour supporting Heaven or Las Vegas, the group signed a new recording contract with Mercury Records subsidiary Fontana for the UK and elsewhere, while retaining their US relationship with Capitol. In 1991, 4AD and Capitol released a box set that compiled the band’s EPs from 1982 to 1990, and also included a bonus disc of rare and previously unreleased material.

Heaven or Las Vegas. You’re either in the good place or a gaudy replica designed to trick you. Sweet relief or a desert mirage. It sounds like a trap, doesn’t it? That’s kind of what the record was for Cocteau Twins, too. Six albums in, the gothy cult heroes of 4AD Records gave in completely to the pop urges they had flirted with on 1988’s Blue Bell Knoll and 1984’sTreasure. Happily, the resulting masterpiece not only defined the Scottish trio for good, it established an ethereal blueprint for dream pop. While there are countless examples of indie bands struggling to marry their deep weirdness to pop structures, the Cocteaus’ version of a slightly more commercial sound did not compromise their individual idiosyncrasies. Rather, it distilled them into something painfully gorgeous and utterly mesmerizing.

Elizabeth Fraser, Robin Guthrie, and Simon Raymonde were each going through heavy periods when they wrote and recorded Heaven or Las Vegas at their own September Sound Studios in London. Raymonde, the keyboard player and bassist, had just lost his father, composer Ivor Raymonde. Guthrie, the guitarist and drum programmer, was at the height of his cocaine addiction, and his partner, vocalist Fraser, was a new mother keeping things together. Fraser had been known for her impressionistic approach to melody, focusing more on the sounds of the words and effortlessly bending them into evocative gibberish with her piercing soprano. On Heaven or Las Vegas, though, you can actually tell that she is singing about her relationship and her daughter, still in an oblique and conflicted way but still with a newfound confidence she attributed to her pregnancy. At the time, dream pop was one of the few rock subgenres where overt femininity was not only tolerated, it was necessary. Fraser had already redefined how operatic vocals, glossolalia, and a vaguely new age aesthetic fit into the ’80s alternative world, but here she was being newly direct with declarations of motherly love—building hooks out of them, in fact, like on the effortlessly cool dance track “Pitch the Baby.” Arranging her peerless voice into more elaborate layers and flows, Fraser centered herself at the forefront of a band now pushing the limits of lushness.

The crucial counterpoint to Fraser’s voice can be found in Guthrie’s elaborate, effects-laden guitar loops, which sent reverb through the songs like an industrial fan whipping air around a warehouse. As a guitarist, Guthrie is to dream pop what Kevin Shields is to shoegaze. But by adopting a dazed, dreamy slide technique on songs like “Cherry-Coloured Funk,” one of the best scene-setting opening tracks ever, Guthrie cemented another aspect of his signature guitar jangle; it’s a tone you can hear traces of in everyone from Lush’s Miki Berenyi to the xx’s Romy Madley Croft to the Weeknd . With Guthrie providing the blissful wave of noise, Raymonde adding the crucial ominous undertone, and Fraser tending to the otherworldly drama, the band reached the heights of their mood-setting abilities while still keeping most of the songs around three minutes. Not that you’d necessarily notice the song lengths: Heaven or Las Vegas is less a collection of tracks than a 37-minute journey to a surreal realm. You don’t know where you are, exactly; you just notice the warm feeling that washes over you when you arrive. Heaven, after all, is subjective.

“Four-Calendar Café” (1993)

Fraser and Guthrie ended their 13-year relationship in 1993, and by this time had a young daughter, Lucy-Belle, born in 1989. The band’s seventh LP, Four-Calendar Café, their first since Fraser and Guthrie’s separation, was released in late 1993. The band explained that Four-Calendar Café was a response to the turmoil that had engulfed them in the intervening years, with Guthrie entering rehab and quitting alcohol and drugs, and Fraser undergoing psychotherapy.

“Bluebeard”, written as her relationship with Guthrie was disintegrating, is often held up as an example of Fraser at her most forthright and confessional. Even though it features lines like “Are you the right man for me? Are you safe? Are you my friend? Or are you toxic for me?’, it’s surprisingly light and breezy.

“Love’s Easy Tears”, along with its music video makes me want to go to the flat of someone who owns a massive television and take psychedelics for several days.

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“Milk & Kisses” (1996)

1995 saw the release of two new EPs: Twinlights and Otherness. Some of the tracks on Twinlights and Otherness were versions of songs from the band’s eighth album, Milk & Kisses (1996). The record saw the return of more heavily layered guitars, and Fraser began once again to obscure her lyrics, though not entirely. Two singles were taken from the album: “Tishbite (song)” “Violaine” both exist in two CD versions, with different A-side and B-side included on each. The band, augmented by an extra guitarist and a drummer, toured extensively to support the album, their last for Mercury/Fontana. A new song, “Touch Upon Touch”, which debuted during the live shows and was recorded later in 1996 was also one of the two songs written and arranged by Fraser, Guthrie and Raymonde for Chinese pop singer Faye Wong for her Mandarin album Fuzao released in June 1996, the other being “Tranquil Eye” from Violaine released in October 1996.

In 1997, while recording what was to have been their ninth LP, the trio disbanded over irreconcilable differences in part related to the breakup of Guthrie and Fraser. While a number of songs were partially recorded and possibly completed, the band has stated that they will likely never be finished or released in any form.

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In 1999 Bella Union, the record label founded by Guthrie and Raymonde, released a double-CD Cocteau Twins compilation entitled BBC Sessions. The collection is a complete record of the band’s appearances on UK radio programs from 1982 to 1996, with rare and unreleased material included. In 2000, 4AD released Stars and Topsoil, a compilation of selected songs picked by the band members that had been released during their years with 4AD; all recordings had been digitally remastered by Guthrie. Finally, in 2003, 4AD followed Stars and Topsoil with the release of digitally remastered versions of the first six Cocteau Twins LPs.

Later in 2005, 4AD released a worldwide limited edition of 10,000 compilation box set titled, Lullabies to Violaine, a 4-disc set that details every single and EP released from 1982 to 1996. This was shortly followed up by two 2-disc sets of the same names, known simply as Volume 1 and Volume 2.

Image result for jeff buckley and elizabeth fraser images

The prodigiously talented Jeff Buckley only made one studio album, 1994’s Grace, before his accidental drowning in the Mississippi River in 1997, but his estate has continued to release a wealth of posthumous material. These range from top notch material like the drafts for his second album, released as Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, as well as great songs like ‘Forget Her’, a Grace outtake, but his clearing of the decks has also felt like it’s scraping the bottom of the barrel with releases like Grace Around the World.

But despite all the archival activity, one fascinating song by Buckley remains in the archive – collaborator Elizabeth Fraser has dismissed the song as “unfinished, you see. I don’t want it to be heard.” Fraser, the lead singer of the Cocteau Twins, previously recorded a version of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song to the Siren’ in the mid 1980s. She was in a relationship with Jeff Buckley in the mid 1990s, and they sang together on ‘All Flowers In Time Bend Towards The Sun’. Even if it’s unvarnished, with Fraser and Buckley only accompanied by an acoustic guitar, it’s still enthralling – two unique, spectacular voices in an unlikely pairing.

Fraser struck up an intense relationship with Jeff Buckley after they became infatuated with each other’s voices. Again, emotion produced music. This sublime duet they recorded called All Flowers in Time Bend Towards the Sun is around the internet, to her irritation.

“Why do people have to hear everything?” she complains. I tell her it’s wonderful. “But it’s unfinished, you see. I don’t want it to be heard.” There’s a pause. “Maybe I won’t always think that.”

Buckley died in 1997, by which time they had lost touch – Fraser had grown frustrated with his constant touring, a reaction that weighs heavily on her. “I just wish I’d been more of a friend,” she says, softly. “His career was everything to him, and I wish I had been more understanding – happy with a different kind of relationship. I missed out on something there, and it was my fault.”

The news that Buckley had disappeared – he drowned, swimming in the Wolf river in Memphis – came while Fraser was recording Teardrop with Massive Attack. “That was so weird,” she says. “I’d got letters out and I was thinking about him. That song’s kind of about him – that’s how it feels to me anyway.” It seems she is haunted by guilt: for not being there for Buckley, for everything. As she puts it: “I need to forgive myself.”

Unreleased (unfinished) acoustic track by Jeff Buckley and Elizabeth Fraser. Recorded sometime around 1995-1996.

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Anyone who’s been living on the grapevine these past few years must have heard the rumours about the coming of the FELT reissues – well they’re here.

Felt was a 1980s UK indie band hailing from Birmingham, led by enigmatic Lawrence Hayward (or, just Lawrence for preference), and usually included guitarist Maurice Deebank. The band claimed to have released ten albums and ten singles in ten years but actually released 11 singles if you include their debut Index on Shanghai Packaging. They were influenced by, among others, New York band Television and 60s icon Bob Dylan.

Forming in 1979, Felt never broke through to the mainstream, but enjoyed a substantial cult following. Throughout the early 1980s, Felt released a number of oblique, minimalistic guitar pop gems. In 1986 they broke through with the single Primitive Painters (featuring the Cocteau Twins Elizabeth Fraser), and the album Forever Breathes The Lonely Word. Here, Haywards trademark melodic songs are matched by a fuller sound – catchy organ lines from Martin Duffy (now with Primal Scream) and Deebanks cascading guitars feature throughout. Following this, releases in 1987 of Poem Of The River, in 1988 of The Pictorial Jackson Review, and in 1989 of Me And A Monkey On The Moon, cemented Felts cult following and reputation, before Hayward split the band up to pursue 70s-influenced project, Denim, and subsequently Go-Kart Mozart. Felts influence continues to reverberate in the music of current bands.

These vinyl records, unavailable for many years, have been remastered and revisited by Lawrence, and he has fashioned the ultimate definitive collections. They are available in a deluxe gatefold sleeve. During the ‘80s Felt made ten albums and ten singles for the Cherry Red and Creation labels. This beautifully produced series examines the work of one of the greatest underground groups of modern times.

The first five albums will be released on 23rd October 2018. These vinyl records, unavailable for many years, have been remastered and revisited by Lawrence, and he has fashioned the ultimate definitive collections. They are available in a deluxe gatefold sleeve.

Produced by Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins and featuring the skyscraping vocal of Elizabeth Fraser on the mighty track “Primitive Painters”. Felt found themselves at the top of the independent charts. Unhappy with the overall sound though – it was as if some of Lawrence’s best songs were lost in an “ethereal swirl.” John A. Rivers has been given access to the original master tapes and six songs have remixed. Also – side 2 has been focused, edited and “made symmetrical.” Finally these songs can be heard as intended by Felt. It has become at long last a cohesive whole.