Album #232: Cocteau Twins – Garlands

  • Released: 1982
  • Origin: Grangemouth, Scotland
  • Label: 4AD
  • Best Track: Grail Overfloweth

Interpol, Black Flag, Jawbreaker – there are some bands where I’ve become so obsessed with one album, I’ve barely bothered to listen to any others by them. It’s almost like I don’t want to dilute the esteem I hold Turn on the Bright Lights, Damaged and 24 Hour Revenge Therapy in by listening to much of these bands’ back catalogues.

You could probably add Cocteau Twins to that list. Their sixth album Heaven or Las Vegas is something of a landmark release in dream-pop/shoegaze, but I’ve only listened to the odd track from their earlier career like the 1984 single ‘Pearly Dewdrops Drop’, which doesn’t appear on any of their albums.

I’m realising this is a mistake, because the band were a crucial part of early ’80s post-punk too. Their debut album Garlands is definitely in that bracket, gloomy and bass-heavy in the vein of Siouxsie and the Banshees, but at the same time paving the way for some of the abstract noise elements of fellow Scots the Jesus and Mary Chain, and later My Bloody Valentine.

This is a fantastic, haunting, claustrophic, lost and disorientating debut. Tracks like ‘Wax and Wane’ showcase Elizabeth Fraser’s trademark vocal and lyrical approach, often a childlike babble with non-standard grammar (“Carrion grows/Morefoul we find/The devil bites dirty”).

The see-sawing rhythm of ‘Blind Deaf Dumb’ almost sounds like it could have inspired My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Only Shallow’, and best of all is the unsettlingly distant closer ‘Grail Overfloweth’.

I often say “I must listen to more of that band” without really meaning it. This time I do! Cocteau Twins are up there with Kraftwerk, Wire and And Also the Trees in a listen of bands where I need to do a full exploration of their discography. It will probably have to wait until next year when this project’s over though!

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