A Balearic Bluffer`s Guide To The Music Of Robin Guthrie (and the Cocteau Twins) 

I’ve cited the music of Robin Guthrie in countless record reviews – perhaps 50% of my ambient ones. Folks may not be trying to directly emulate the ground-breaking guitarist`s signature sound, but for sure they must have been influenced by it. Shoegazers like Slowdive might be obvious examples but it`s also there in the emotive “dub techno” of Brock Van Wey. Looking back at just the last couple of years I could list loads of artists that Ban Ban Ton Ton`s covered such as Belver Yin, Blank Gloss, Eleventeen Eston, Max Essa, GLOK, Suzanne Kraft, Rachika Nayar, Pablo Color, Raymond Richards, Santilli, and Trentemøller, who all owe Robin something. 

For me the music of Robin and The Cocteau Twins is like that of Fela Kuti, or, sonically closer to home, Durutti Column, in that to the uninitiated and on a quick skim, each album might appear the same, but to the devoted and on a deeper listen everything has something unique, essential to offer. Basically you need the lot. Likewise Guthrie`s long-running collaboration with the sadly departed composer, Harold Budd, produced over the course of thirty odd years, around a dozen LPs and movie soundtracks, all of which, if you can find them, are definitely worth purchasing. However, below is a short list, a “Best Of”, for Balearic bluffers, briefly explaining why these are the beauties to drop. 

Cocteau Twins – Treasure

Cocteau Twins Treasure

The Cocteaus` third album contains the stone cold Jose Padilla Cafe del Mar classic, the lovely Lorem Ipsum lullaby that is Pandora. Where single notes are left, and lost to echo, surrounding Liz Fraser`s vocal fireworks. Her proclamations, promises, in an otherworldly, angelic, tongue. The synergy is simply beautiful, rapt and romantic, a somehow sexual rush. Wrapped in love and lust. 

Cocteau Twins – Blue Bell Knoll

Cocteau Twins Blue Bell Knoll

The title track was – maybe still is – a firm DJ Harvey favourite, that I pulled from an afters playlist, a lock-in (not down) somewhere around Old Street, maybe Club 333, in the early 2000s. Its keys racing in a harpsichord-like hurry, and with a bass-line to worry Peter Hook. Glossolalia gymnastics like a Gaelic hymn. Catharsis comes in the shape of crashing drums, which reach a crescendo as Robin`s icy guitar indulges in some serious thrashing and shredding. 

Cocteau Twins – Heaven Or Las Vegas

Cocteau Twins Heaven Or Las Vegas

When I interviewed Bullion, a good few years ago now, he told me that this was his favourite record, not just of The Cocteaus, but his favourite full stop. I guess it`s kind of the distillation, crystallization, of everything the trio had done to date, while a return to English lyrics provided some proper “pop”. Iceblink Luck, for example, is all joyful jangle, and seems to sing of freedom and release – boasting of “burning this whole mad house down.” The album`s title is said to refer to one last gamble, in terms of both the band and Fraser and Guthrie as a couple. 

Cocteau Twins – Four Calendar Cafe

Cocteau Twins Four Calendar Cafe

This one’s a Phil Mison “tip” – the Cafe del Mar resident spinning Know Who You Are At Every Age during more than several White Isle sunsets. The song alludes to Fraser`s therapy – “I won’t heal until I cry…until I let it go” – and is full of both heartbreak and hope. The sessions also spawned the sublime b-side, Three Swept, which again found favour with Phil, while my own personal pick is Pur. A piece whose poetry packs a powerful tear-jerking punch for anyone who has experienced, been entangled in and eventually escaped, an abusive relationship. The line “I am not afraid of your anger” does it for me every time. Following the album`s recording, Robin went into rehab, and Liz had a nervous breakdown. 

John Foxx & Robin Guthrie – Mirrorball

Robin Guthrie Mirrorball

Guthrie teams up with the original Ultravox! frontman for a one-off. Both had previously independently collaborated extensively with Harold Budd, so I guess this meeting of musical minds was inevitable. The track, My Life As An Echo, is one of the treasures to be found in Andrew Weatherall`s Black Notebooks. Robin`s slow motion riffing caught up in a single chord, with no need for too many changes, while John`s piano waltzes above the resulting wonderful wall of ringing guitar noise.

This Mortal Coil – Song To The Siren

This Mortal Coil Cover

Played by all of the above DJs, and doubtless thousands more. While This Mortal Coil were a rotating assembly, a sort of 4AD all-stars, this epic, ethereal, Tim Buckley cover is The Cocteaus in all but name. Haunting and haunted by love unrequited and far out of reach, all those lips you’ll never kiss. I`m pretty sure their version of Roy Harper’s Another Day was also a regular Cafe del Mar play. 

Robin Guthrie continues to create, currently at a Herculean rate. The music, like pages from a diary and accompanied by Robin`s own photography, I believe is self-released, on the label, Soleil Apres Minuit. 

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