In late 1983 Cocteau Twins again added a third
member: this time, Simon Raymonde, a London scenester and former
member of the band The Drowning Craze. Raymonde played both
bass and piano, adding another layer of depth to the Cocteau
sound. A depth that was used to stunning effect on their third
album (and third line-up), Treasure.
This is the sound that folks associate with Cocteau Twins.
Treasure is where it all fell into place, where
the elements of what was to become "the Cocteau Twins sound"
happened. There was Liz Fraser's voice, powerful yet delicate,
singing vocalless lyrics (an impressionism of the voice), with
Simon Raymonde providing the supple rhythmic foundation upon
which Robin Guthrie was to construct his majestic cathedrals
of sound. This was the beginning of a burst of creative genius
from Cocteau Twins, and the 8 releases they would crank out
between 1984 and 1986 still stand, in my mind, as a testament
to what can be done by sheer human willpower.
Treasure is a lush album of highly layered textures.
It is often refined and restrained, yet there is real beauty
in it as well.
The album begins with a cascading trill of harpsichord-like
guitarwork, and Fraser's colorful singing in Ivo. This
sounds like otherworldly court music: it is elegant and yet
utterly bizarre. Fraser's voice is plainly out front, and also
layered behind in soaring chorus and odd bird chirping sound.
(Who needs backing vocalists when you can layer one vocalist
several times over?) This song just builds and builds.
Eventually the formal pressure of Ivo explodes into
Lorelei. This is one of my favorite Cocteau Twins songs
ever. It moves along at a fast pace with a whirling fuzz of
guitar, thudding drums, staccato piano hits, and layers and
layers of Fraser. It moves along at an unstoppable pace. I love
this song, and always have.
After that rock out, it's back to the otherworldly music for
Beatrix. This sounds like the music that would be played
as dance music in some Tolkein-esque fantasy world. It is constructed
out of eerie deep bass, Fraser's trilling voice, and arpeggioing
guitar. Is this in 3/4 time? The reason i am a critic and not
a musician is that the intracacies of rhythm are foreign to
me: i can never tell what the time signature is. At any rate,
i can imagine waltzing to this.... It is a good tune, but odd.
Persephone is a throw back to their earlier, more drum
machine intensive work. The drum machine thuds and sputters,
and Guthrie plays with overdrive and not chorus on his guitar.
This tune is harsher than everything else on the album, and
Fraser's voice is more frantic. It's slightly out of place in
the delicacy of this album, but is not a bad tune.
Pandora is a return to the beauty. Guthrie's guitar
shimmers like a pool deep in some magical musical woodland.
The drum machine hits the rims and plays a lighthearted jazzy
beat. This is simply lovely, and vaguely jazzy. The jazz of
a alternate reality.
Things slow down on Amelia, a decent song which wanders
along as if it has no particular place to be. Fraser does some
good work here, but in general this is the weakest track on
Aloysius is up next, another dreampoppy tune. This song
is constructed out of a simple sleighbell rhythm (lotsa sleighbell
on this album -- Guthrie must have just gotten them), and a
tingling, echoey guitar riff. If Treasure is the
origin of the dreampop movement, then this song in particular
is echoed by dozens of bands. It is light and tranquil, with
Fraser's voice in layers singing her own roundel, and Raymonde
providing rhythmic piano chording. This is a great song.
Cicely comes next. I think that this tune is probably
the closest of anything on Treasure to the pseudo-goth
of Head Over Heels.
From the harsh 808 sounds to Raymonde's deep bass riffage to
Guthrie's high-pitched guitar squeal to the almost jazz feel
of Fraser's voice, this song provides continuity with their
pevious work. It is not as strong as the bulk of that previous
album, but is a good post-punk tune.
If Cicely echoes the past, then the tune that follows
it, Otterly, points towards the future. This song is
barely there -- it is very slow ambience. Fraser whispers over
layers of guitar arpeggio forming a light haze. Going back and
listening to the album in depth again, i am amazed at how much
this song seems to predict the work that Guthrie was to pursue
with Violet Indiana,
his post-Cocteau band. It's not my favorite on the album, but
it is a lovely interlude for the powerful tune which is to end
The conclusion song is Donimo, and it is an epic track.
I find that the Twins often revisit songs that are structured
around the building of tension and it's eventual explosive release.
It is a structure they work with very well: from Blue Bell
Knoll to Treasure Hiding to Ooze Out and Away,
Onehow, the Twins work well with songs that start with a
slow burn and then explode.
Donimo builds slowly out of Fraser singing in what sounds
like Latin, backed by a vague chorus sound (most likely constructed
from a synthesizer patch of voices) and a bass drone. Then it
kicks into overdrive with a flurry of drums and powerful guitar
riffage. Fraser really lets loose on the chorus, showing her
dynamic range. Then the song descends into quietude again with
a great sequence of echoed guitar strumming, before exploding
again with a wall of sound. A good formula, and this song works
very well. I find that this formula works well to end an album:
it is very cathartic. And after Donimo is finished, the
listener is both exhausted and exhilarated. Just like you should
be after an artistic statement as strong as Treasure.
On the whole, this is a stunning album. Much like its predecessor,
i imagine that this was shockingly different when it was released.
Of course, since then many bands have built careers out of
exploring these sounds. Bands that are very good in and of
themselves, like Slowdive, Seefeel (to a degree), Mahogany,
and Love Spirals Downwards, to name but a few. And, as i stated
above, this is the most stereotypically Cocteau-sounding album
in their catalog.
I have found that a lot of non-dreampop fans consider Treasure
to be too lush. It's textures are so rich and otherworldly
that it is sometimes hard to gain an entry into the music.
As such, it is not my recommendation for your first Cocteau
Twins purchase. Although to be fair, a large number of fan
list members would disagree with me on that.
Still, it is a stunning album for its challengingness. I think
that, a full 18.5 years after it's release, this album still
stands up. Sure, some of the drum beats sound oldish, but for
the most part it is so unique that it mostly sounds very fresh.
It's a great achievement, but it's lack of approachability
is what prompts me to give it only 6 sponges. My advice to you
is this: if you have heard Cocteau Twins and liked what you
have heard, then by all means run out and buy Treasure.
If you are new to them, start with a more approachable album,
like Head Over Heels
or Heaven or Las Vegas.