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Cocteau Twins Series: HEAD OVER HEELS + 3 EPs
The second in a series on the Cocteau Twins discography. Cheerio.
HEAD OVER HEELS ushered Cocteau Twins into the vaunted, rarefied halls of artists who defy the “sophomore slump” by doing a quantum leap over their debut. It develops everything from the first LP further and then some. While Garlands didn’t feel like the Cocteaus I know, this record already contains several iconic cuts.
“When Mama Was Moth” sets a template for droning, textural tone-setting intros that’s been chased by too many artists to list. I tried, and it immediately felt like it was gumming up the flow of the tweet chain this piece started out as.
“Five Ten Fiftyfold” feels like the first proper Cocteau Twins song: soaring yet claustrophobic, all at once, as confounding lyrics echo through a hazy gloom. One could argue that this marriage of the personal and esoteric with the anthemic is an early example of an idiom that bands like Radiohead would bring to the mainstream much later — not to mention how it cements the side of Cocteau Twins that obviously informs artists like Chromatics or Grimes.
By the third track, “Sugar Hiccup” is already what I think of as the first iconic Cocteau Twins song. Showing us a new, unexpectedly bright, even angelic-sounding side, this song is arguably the origin point — or at least the crucial turning point — for what we now casually know as “dream pop.” The throughline that ≈begins with this song can be found later in This Mortal Coil and nearly all of David Lynch’s soundtracks, on up to more recent trends like chillwave and soft grunge or artists from Best Coast to CHVRCHES.
In the very next track — marked by the LP’s second startlingly blunt segue — “In Our Angelhood” goes pounding and uptempo, building on the Lullabies EP’s experiments and revealing a perhaps surprising post-punk streak…i.e., the third core pillar of the style they’d continue to refine and develop.
And that tight run is just the first four tracks. Although the album tends to lean more looping and alien than “songy” around the middle, the remaining cuts explore a variety of fresh, inventive soundscapes with some unexpected touches, like the alternate-universe blues of “Multifoiled.” This is what I knew to expect of Cocteau Twins: for each album to feel like a journey between various mystical soundscapes one will have never been to before, all suggested between the lines by reverbs, theatrics, and that glimpse of an unusual word you caught.
It culminates in “Musette and Drums,” an epic, utterly hypnotic, thumping banger and wildly galvanizing outro track that you can hear, in real time, seeding artists as far-flung as Madonna and The Mars Volta with stylistic input. It has a huge, looming power I never want to end; you could listen to this song over and over for hours without tiring of it, and I have.
So here we are. In two studio albums bridged by a plucky little EP, the Twins (who are actually just a duo for the first time here) have found their footing with shocking pace and grace, literally birthing a new genre — and establishing a voice and style that has yet to be replicated in just shy of 40 years. I’m so fucking excited for the rest.
P.S. — It was released on Halloween! spOooOoOoOOoky!
P.P.S. — Cocteau Twins apparently hate their own PEPPERMINT PIG single/EP, which had an outside producer who they say didn’t like their music. And it does feel “off”: too dry, more emphasis on percussion over atmosphere even compared to their other uptempo cuts. Something’s just not quite right about it, even though I don’t dislike the songs. It illustrates by contrast how integral their in-house, idiosyncratic production was to their unique sound.
But hey, at least you can hear Will Heggie’s bass lines clearly on his last record with the band. Peace out Will.
Ope, I almost missed SUNBURST AND SNOWBLIND, an EP that’s kind of a “Sugar Hiccup” single plus three amazing B-sides that went on to be staples imho. “Hitherto” is a classic, one of their best songs for me period.
It’s staggering how much fresh, original music they released in 1983 and 1984 — between LPs 2 and 3.
Next, THE SPANGLE MAKER is the first record with the band’s true bassist, Simon Raymonde. As an EP, this is kinda the “Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops” single, despite being named for “The Spangle Maker” — an incredible song with the most perfect, intoxicating blend of the anthemic and the abrupt.
Of course, “Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops” — their highest-charting single ever — is pure magic. I can’t imagine hearing it in 1983 and not sensing an instant classic.
Even your first time listening to it, the moment it kicks in, you feel you’ve of course known it all your life. It shines like the sun on your skin, the first day you’ve been outside in months.
Also, there is zero chance that avowed Cocteau Twins enjoyer David Lynch never saw this video — specifically, the lush waterfall shot that probably informed the iconic waterfall shots of the Great Northern, in both the old and new Twin Peaks opening titles.
This piece is part of an ongoing series. Find the other parts below:
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