Cathedral-sized abstract washes of sound became the basic building blocks of shoegaze and the trick has more recently become de rigor among bands like Sigur Ros and M83, with much of this groundwork lying within the early discography of the Cocteau Twins. The band created swirling atmospherics in which it was often hard to tell that the guitars were even really guitars and then they placed Liz Frazier’s ethereal, linguistic-mulching vocal acrobatics over the top. At peak form, the band was absolutely devastating.
I love all of the band’s records (especially “Head Over Heels”, “Heaven or Las Vegas”, and “Treasure”), but it’s “The Pink Opaque” which was my introduction (found in a cut-out bin of all places), and it remains my favorite. The album was a compendium of tracks, taken from EPs, singles, and compilations, that had never been released in the United States, and they are staggeringly strong from top to bottom. I once made a house full of people, at Nick and Jezy’s famed Club 805, listen to the album in the dark, and it was a magically hypnotic experience. Or everyone was just graciously putting up with me for 40 minutes. That probably happens a lot.
Opening track, “The Spangle Maker”, creates a beautiful state of ambient tension before a crashing release three and a half minutes which rivals anything that has followed this blueprint. Closing piece, “Musette and Drums” creates a dizzying wall of sound as magnificent as anything on “Loveless”, and beat Kevin Shields to the punch by over half a decade. What comes between those bookends is pretty amazing as well, with “Hitherto” being a particularly captivating example.
To the best of my knowledge, this album is no longer in print, but you can still track down copies. Just don’t steal mine or I’ll kill you with a Gaelic banshee wail.