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A group whose distinctly ethereal and gossamer sound virtually defined the enigmatic image of the record label 4AD, Cocteau Twins were founded in Grangemouth, Scotland, in 1979. Taking their name from an obscure song from fellow Scots Simple Minds, the Cocteaus were originally formed by guitarist Robin Guthrie and bassist Will Heggie and later rounded out by Guthrie's girlfriend Elizabeth Fraser, an utterly unique performer whose swooping, operatic vocals relied less on any recognizable language than on the subjective sounds and textures of verbalized emotions.
In 1982, the trio signed to 4AD, the arty British label then best known as the home of the Birthday Party, whose members helped the Cocteaus win a contract. The group debuted with Garlands, which offered an embryonic taste of their rapidly developing, atmospheric sound, crafted around Guthrie's creative use of distorted guitars, tape loops, and echo boxes and anchored in Heggie's rhythmic bass as well as an omnipresent Roland 808 drum machine. Shortly after the release of the Peppermint Pig EP, Heggie left the group, and Guthrie and Fraser cut 1983's Head Over Heels as a duo; nonetheless, the album largely perfected the Cocteaus' gauzy formula, and established the foundation from which the group would continue to work for the duration of its career.
In late 1983, ex-Drowning Craze bassist Simon Raymonde joined the band to record the EP The Spangle Maker; as time wore on, Raymonde became an increasingly essential component of Cocteau Twins, gradually assuming an active role as a writer, arranger, and producer. With their lineup firmly solidified, they issued The Spangle Maker, followed by the LP Treasure, their most mature and consistent work yet. A burst of creativity followed, as the Twins issued three separate EPs -- Aikea-Guinea, Tiny Dynamine, and Echoes in a Shallow Bay -- in 1985, trailed a year later by the acoustic Victorialand album, the Love's Easy Tears EP, and The Moon and the Melodies, a collaborative effort with minimalist composer Harold Budd.
With 1988's sophisticated Blue Bell Knoll, the trio signed an international contract with Capitol Records, which greatly elevated their commercial visibility. After 1990's Heaven or Las Vegas, the Cocteaus severed their long-standing relationship with 4AD; notably, the album also found Fraser's vocals offering the occasional comprehensible turn of phrase, a trend continued on 1993's Four-Calendar Cafe. In 1995, they explored a pair of differing musical approaches on simultaneously released EPs: while Twinlights offered subtle acoustic sounds, Otherness tackled ambient grooves, remixed by Seefeel's Mark Clifford. On the other hand, 1996's Milk & Kisses LP marked a return to the band's archetypal style. Cocteau Twins quietly disbanded while working on an uncompleted follow-up. Posthumous releases followed, such as 1999's BBC Sessions, 2000's Stars and Topsoil, and 2005's Lullabies to Violaine.
Cocteau Twins were a Scottish rock band active from 1979 to 1997, known for innovative instrumentation and atmospheric, non-lyrical vocals. The original members were Elizabeth Fraser (vocals), Robin Guthrie (guitar, drum machine) and Will Heggie (bass guitar), who was replaced by multi-instrumentalist Simon Raymonde early in the band's career.
While the entire band earned much critical praise, Elizabeth Fraser's distinctive soprano vocals received the most attention. At times barely decipherable, Fraser seemed to veer into glossolalia and mouth music.Reynolds, Simon. Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. London: Faber and Faber, 2005. p. 423. ISBN 0-571-21569-6. Critic Jack Rabid declares that guitarist Robin Guthrie "explore[d] soundscapes barely touched on in pop history
ContentsHistory1.1 Formative years: 1979–19831.2 Rise to fame: 1984–19891.3 Mainstream success: 1990–19941.4 Latest releases and break-up: 1995–1997
Formative years: 1979–1983
Robin Guthrie and Will Heggie (bass guitar), both from Grangemouth, Scotland, formed the band in 1979. At a local disco called Nash they met Elizabeth Fraser, also from Grangemouth, who would eventually provide vocals. The band's influences at the time included The Birthday Party, Sex Pistols, Kate Bush, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The band was named after the song "The Cocteau Twins" by fellow Scotsmen 'Johnny and the Self-Abusers' (who later renamed themselves Simple Minds; the song "The Cocteau Twins" was also re-penned as "No Cure"). Their debut recording, Garlands (released by 4AD Records in 1982), was an instant success, as was the subsequent Lullabies EP. Around that time, NME's Don Watson compared the style of the band to goth bands like Gene Loves Jezebel and Xmal Deutschland., while SPIN magazine's Sue Cummings compared it retrospectively to Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus.
Will Heggie left the group after the tour that followed the 1983 release of the band's second EP, Peppermint Pig. He subsequently joined Lowlife. The band's sound on its first three recordings relied on the combination of Heggie's rhythmic basslines, Guthrie's minimalist guitar melodies, and Fraser's voice; the Cocteau Twins' next full-length LP, Head over Heels, relied solely on the latter two. This led to the growth of the band's characteristic sound: Fraser's voice, by turns ethereal and earthy, combined with Guthrie's effects-heavy guitars. Guthrie 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 the effects and layering were due to his own technical limitations.
“The Cocteau Twins are still the best by far at the 4AD Ethereal dreamscape, thanks largely to the extraordinary voice of Liz Fraser. Somehow she's found a voice that falls completely outside 'Rock' or 'Pop'.” – Simon Reynolds, New Statesman, 1987
In 1983, the band participated in 4AD's This Mortal Coil project (this spawned a cover version of Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren" performed by Guthrie and Fraser), and during their work for that, they got to know multi-instrumentalist Simon Raymonde (formerly a member of Drowning Craze), who joined the group later that year. In 2012, Dawn French selected "Song to the Siren" on Desert Island Discs as, in her words, "The song that made me fall in love again".
Rise to fame: 1984–1989
With Raymonde, the band released a series of critically acclaimed albums and EPs that explored their new style. These included The Spangle Maker (1984), Treasure (1984), Aikea-Guinea (1985), Tiny Dynamine and Echoes in a Shallow Bay (1985), and Love's Easy Tears (1986). Raymonde, who was called in to work on the second album by This Mortal Coil, did not participate in the recording of the fourth Cocteau Twins LP, Victorialand (1986), a predominantly acoustic record which featured only Guthrie and Fraser. Raymonde returned to the group for The Moon and the Melodies (1986), a collaboration with ambient composer Harold Budd, which was not released under the Cocteau Twins name.
In 1985, 4AD signed an agreement with Relativity Records for distribution of the Cocteau Twins' releases in the US and other territories. To commemorate the event, the compilation The Pink Opaque (1985) was released as a way of introducing the new, broader audience to the band's back catalogue.
While remaining a 4AD band internationally, the Cocteau Twins finally signed a major-label contract with Capitol Records in 1988 for distribution in the US, and released their fifth proper LP, Blue Bell Knoll, in October of that year.
Mainstream success: 1990–1994
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 charts 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 addiction to drugs and alcohol.
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 or previously unreleased material.
The band's seventh LP, Four-Calendar Café, 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. The two had been in a long-term relationship, and by this time had a young daughter, Lucy-Belle, born in 1989.
Latest releases and break-up: 1995–1997
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 and 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" and "Violaine"; both exist in two CD versions, with different b-sides 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, became the last Cocteau Twins song ever released. It 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 Fu Zao 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 break-up 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. In the same year Guthrie and Raymonde wrote and performed a new song in Faye Wong's eponymous album.Ankeny, Jason. "Cocteau Twins' Biography". allmusic.com. Retrieved 8 March 2012. Don Watson, Don (6 November 1982). "The Cocteau Twins: Fun From Falkirk - Fat Chance?". NME. Missing or empty |url= (help); |accessdate= requires |url= (help) Sue Cummings: "The Pink Opaque", Cocteau Twins review, p. 28, SPIN magazine, March 1986 Paynes, Steph: "Robin Guthrie", Guitar Player, 25(2):25–26, 1991. Simon Reynolds, New Statesman, p.60, Band 114, 1987 "The song that made me fall in love again". Express Newspapers. 23 December 2012. "Cocteau Twins, UK charts, Albums". officialcharts.com. Retrieved 2012-08-08. Dave Simpson (26 November 2009). "Elizabeth Fraser talks about why she finds it too difficult to even think about her old Cocteau Twins bandmates". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 30 December 2011.
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 1983 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 Robin Guthrie. Finally, in 2003, 4AD followed Stars and Topsoil with the release of digitally remastered versions of the first six Cocteau Twins LPs.
On 31 January 2005, the Cocteau Twins announced that they would be reforming to perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on 30 April 2005, and later indicated that additional tour dates would be added. On 16 March the reunion was cancelled.
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 1982–1996. This was shortly followed up by two 2-disc sets of the same names, known as Volume 1 and Volume 2.
Since March 2007, the band has started podcasts of exclusive material. On 6 October 2008 the Cocteau Twins were awarded, and accepted in a rare collective live appearance, the Q Awards Inspiration Award.
In 2009, the Cocteau Twins song "Alice" was used in Peter Jackson's film The Lovely Bones.
Their song "Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops" was included in the Perks of Being a Wallflower soundtrack.
In 2013 the first book about the band, Des Punks Célestes, was published in France."Cocteau Twins offer previously unreleased live tracks via podcast". Side-line.com. 22 February 1999. Retrieved 30 December 2011. "Q Song Awards". Wn.com. Retrieved 30 December 2011. "Cocteaus an Inspiration - Q Awards 2008". .qawards.co.uk. 2005-06-29. Retrieved 2014-04-17. "The Lovely Bones soundtracks". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2014-04-017. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help) "Camion Blanc, Des Punks Célestes, Jean-Christophe Manuceau". Camionblanc.com. Retrieved 2014-04-17.
The former members of Cocteau Twins have remained active musically in the years since the band's demise. In addition to forming Bella Union, Guthrie and Raymonde have produced releases from new bands signed to that label.
Simon Raymonde released the solo album Blame Someone Else as the first release on Bella Union. He also co-produced the posthumous album by Billy Mackenzie from the Associates, then went on to produce several Domino Records artists like James Yorkston, Archie Bronson Outfit (whom he later managed) and Clearlake. More recently he has produced the UK band The Duke Spirit, London-based duo Helene, former Golden Virgins frontman Lucas Renney and has mixed the Mercury Prize nominated album The End of History by Fionn Regan. In his role running Bella Union and signing bands to the label, he has discovered such artists as Laura Veirs, Fleet Foxes, Midlake, Lift to Experience, The Low Anthem, I Break Horses, The Czars, John Grant, and the label is renowned for its long-term relationships with its artists, like Beach House who have released all four of their albums with Bella Union, as have Dirty Three, Midlake etc. He has recently picked up Independent Label of The Year award at the Music Week Awards in 2010, 2012, 2014 as voted by the UK's independent retailers.
Robin Guthrie has released three solo albums—Imperial, Continental, and Carousel—and four EPs. He toured extensively with his band Violet Indiana, which included ex-Cocteau's guitarist Mitsuo Tate in the line-up. He has also scored the music for two movies—American indie film Mysterious Skin (in collaboration with Harold Budd) and Mexican/Spanish movie 3:19. He also reunited with Budd to collaborate on two companion CDs: Before the Day Breaks and After the Night Falls. In 2006, Guthrie produced three songs on Mahogany's "Connectivity," on which Lucy Bell Guthrie made her singing debut. He most recently produced and played guitar on Apollo Heights debut album, White Music for Black People
Elizabeth Fraser provided guest vocals on Future Sound of London's single "Lifeforms" (1993), vocals for three songs on Massive Attack's Mezzanine in 1998 (as well as touring with them several times), and for other musical projects and groups. It has been speculated that she has been working on a solo album, though details of this are as yet unavailable. Fraser provided the vocals for "Lament for Gandalf" in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. In 2000 she sang with Peter Gabriel on Ovo (The Millennium Show). In 2005, she worked with Breton musician Yann Tiersen on two songs for his album Les retrouvailles.
In May 2012, Antony Hegarty announced that Elizabeth Fraser would play two live dates in August as part of the Meltdown Festival at London's Southbank Centre that he was curating.Simpson, Dave (26 November 2009). "Elizabeth Fraser talks about why she finds it too difficult to even think about her old Cocteau Twins bandmates". The Guardian (London). Simpson, Dave (1 May 2012). "Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser to perform at Meltdown festival". The Guardian (London).