4AD – 1986
We were newlyweds, and my wife asked my friend, Joel, what Cocteau Twins album I needed the most (that I didn’t already have). He suggested Victorialand because “the first song is nothing but major sevenths and reverb.” She bought the album, and it quickly became one of my favorite in the band’s catalog.
It is certainly a strange album, even for the band already known for its creativity and unique sound. First, the band recorded without one of its guitarists, Simon Raymonde, who was working with This Mortal Coil (on its beautiful Filigree & Shadow album). It seems that the band’s other guitarist, Robin Guthrie, saw Raymonde’s absence as an opportunity to experiment. The album features more acoustic guitars than usual, all drenched in reverb and delay. Second, on all but two songs, there are no rhythm tracks. Not even the band’s signature, harsh drum machines.
Glancing at the song titles reveals this is a concept album about ice and snow. (And knowing that Victorialand is an Antarctic region certainly helps.) Matched with equally icy and shimmery guitars, it’s one of the better executed concept albums I’ve ever heard. Every time I listen, my head swirls in the whirlpool of chorused guitar strums and eighth note delay. It really is euphoric.
All that said, I know that getting into a band like the Cocteau Twins can take a lot of work, even for fans of 80s British alternative. While folks who dig Cocteau Twins usually enjoy bands like The Cure and New Order, I’m not sure the reverse could be said. Sure, the bed of chorused guitars would be familiar to fans of “A Forest,” but Elizabeth Frasier’s vocals can be bone-chilling and even downright weird.
She clearly uses her voice like an instrument. (Bjork fans would be accustomed to this.) Frasier sings in English, but she clearly obscures the words so many verses resemble elvish. Only occasionally can the listener perceives a few words. Sure that description sounds so weird, but listening to Victorialand, it makes so much sense.
I’m sure the album is on Spotify, or perhaps you could piece it together with YouTube videos. In any case, please take the time. The band is so important to the development of dream pop that you have to, at the very least, investigate it. (So fans of The Sundays and The Dream Academy take note!) Victorialand is an especially fitting album on these cool, autumn evenings.