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Revisiting Garlands by Cocteau Twins

Kristina Blagojev | Posted on October 07, 2019

Cocteau Twins album art for their debut project Garlands

courtesy of Cocteau Twins

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

It’s been just over 37 years since Cocteau Twins released their debut studio album, Garlands. I have only been alive for the past 20 of those 37 years, but now will be the first time that I ever listen to anything by the Scottish rock band. After learning that this band was female-fronted, I knew that I had to at least give it a listen. Before today I had never even heard of the Cocteau Twins so this will be a genuinely unbiased and authentic review.

Revisiting Garlands by Cocteau Twins

image of the Cocteau Twins

courtesy of Cocteau Twins

The Cocteau Twins were a three-piece rock band from Scotland consisting of Will Heggie on bass, Robin Guthrie on guitar and drum machines, and Elizabeth Fraser on vocals. The band was named after a song called “The Cocteau Twins” by Simple Minds, another rock band from Scotland.

Some influences of the band include Kate Bush, Siouxsie, and the Banshees. From these influences, you can automatically assume that the Cocteau Twins were shaped by what was considered unconventional rock music. Kate Bush is known for her art-rock and baroque pop, while Siouxsie and the Banshees are known for pioneering the punk genre and mostly playing post-punk and new wave. Without even having to listen to a song you’d know that Garlands won’t be any old plain rock or pop album.

Upon listening to the first track, titled “Blood B****,” I already knew that this album would be a struggle to listen to, as I have never been a fan of the post-punk or dream pop genres. Dream pop focuses on adding layers and textures to songs, and I agree that this is important, but just because you add another background guitar track that doesn’t mean the song will sound any better. At times, it will even make the song sound more incohesive and scatterbrained. That may be the point, but it really isn’t a sound waiting to be consumed by the masses.

Despite that, there were some tracks that made the project bearable. The second-longest track at 5 minutes and 17 seconds, titled “Shallow Then Halo,” probably makes the most sense out of all of the songs. There is some layering and added echos to make the style of the song consistent with the others on the project, however, what stands out the most is Fraser’s addition of an unnecessary amount of vibrato. You could play this whole album in the background while doing homework and not pay attention to anything that’s going on, but as soon as you hear that vibrato, you stop. At first, it sounds a little confusing, and at some points it sounds as if she’s literally warbling. It was an interesting stylistic choice that was definitely unique to the Cocteau Twins.

Garlands was the debut release for the Cocteau Twins, and it was considered an instant success. After giving it a listen, it’s clear as to why it was so successful. The United Kingdom in the 1980s was dominated either by pure pop or hair metal tunes with nothing in between for anybody who didn’t like either genre. There’s a saying that for every social norm within a time period, there has always been a counterculture movement lurking in the shadows. When listening to bands like Cocteau Twins, it’s easy to see that this theory definitely holds at least some truth. Their kind of music isn’t what “Karen from cheer” would be listening to. Cocteau Twins made music for the anti-Karens.

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