In November of 1985, Scotland’s dream pop pioneers Cocteau Twins released two EPs just weeks apart: Tiny Dynamine, followed by Echoes in a Shallow Bay. The EPs were originally sold as both separate 12” records and as a double LP. The Pink Opaque vinyl compilation, originally released by legendary alternative rock label 4AD (in the U.K.) and Relativity stateside in early 1986, has long been out of print.
That will change this weekend, as 4AD (part of the Beggars Group of record labels) plans to reissue these landmark releases on 180-gram vinyl, remastered from the original analog tapes. Note that the two EPs – four songs each – will now be joined together on one record, just as they are on CD.
It is a trip to revisit this era of the band (which is mainly Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser), as they were just starting to hit their peak years (1984-1990 in my opinion) when they came out. CT was three albums and several EPs and singles into its career by late 1985, and by the spring of 1986, the acoustic-featured fourth album Victorialand came out to surprise many (in a good way). So here now is a look back at the three releases that preceded it by a few months, all with a fresh look and sound.
Tiny Dynamine EP
It may surprise fans that the songs that comprise this EP and Echoes were not initially meant to be released but instead created to test the production capabilities of a studio they wanted to use for the first time. That may indeed explain the experimental nature of some of these tracks, some of which have more rawness in production than other, more sonically engineered tunes.
No matter the approach, the lush melodies coming from Guthrie’s guitars are every bit apparent on all tracks, including the dreamy, hazy leadoff track of Tiny D, “Pink Orange Red.” The trippy, backwards effects on Fraser’s vocals add an extra trippy layer that the group was no doubt going after when they set out to record in their new studio.
“Ribbed and Veined” shows that long before the likes of Wild Nothing came along, the Cocteau Twins were creating dark and ethereal tracks with hazy synths. This one happens to be an instrumental as well, which was something of a rarity for CT at the time.
On “Plain Tiger,” the true standout of the EP, Fraser’s powerful vocals tower over swirling guitars and brooding bass, while “Sultitan Itan” closes the release out on a mixed note, as her vocals get a little too intense for a song that melodically doesn’t go too far. Having said that, Tiny Dynamine is still a brilliant experiment overall.
Echoes in a Shallow Bay EP
Opener “Great Spangled Fritillary” plods steadily along, with Guthrie experimenting with fuzzy guitars alongside lighter, chorus effect-aided melodies, while “Pale Clouded White” features gothic elements. CT was never a true “goth” group, but those type of doom-ish and dark soundscapes had definitely been creeping into the CT sound by 1985 (see their 1982 debut Garlands album or 1984 LP Treasure).
The band’s trademark sound, however, was and remains ethereal, dream pop (or “shoegazer” rock if you opt for a louder sound, as My Bloody Valentine would do and take to a whole new level some years later). The band shows on these early ’80s releases that they had already started to master that category before it even existed as a term – and of course, their absolute pinnacle occurred in the late ’80s/early ’90s triumphs like Blue Bell Knoll and Heaven or Las Vegas, respectively.
Overall, this EP isn’t quite as strong as Tiny Dynamine, as second song “Melonella” is a bit repetitive, particularly with Fraser’s dramatically beautiful vocals. Such moments are rare, though. Keep in mind that Garlands also had repetition as one of its few flaws, but it came out when Fraser was only 18 years old and just starting to tap into her otherworldy potential.
The Pink Opaque
The Pink Opaque compilation was the Cocteau Twins’ first official release in the United States – officially January 13, 1986, though some editions (like my vinyl), may still have 1985 as its printed release year. Nonetheless, it collected the best of their early works (1982-1985).
Sometimes record labels issue “best of” compilations of their artists’ work but in so doing, they put out an underwhelming product unworthy of your hard-earned money. 4AD did not swing and miss here. In fact, the label hit a grand slam with this 10-track release.
Let’s just start with the wise choice of including the 7” inch (1984) version of fan favorite and college radio hit, “Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops.” The heavenly, chiming guitars glow over the rhythm section’s slow and graceful waltz time signature, while Fraser matches that grace with her enchanting vocal prowess. She continues to show off her soprano range on other popular cuts from this period, including a then-newer mix of “Aikea-Guinea” (where she channels Kate Bush) and “Lorelei.”
“Wax and Wane” originally appeared on Garlands, but on Pink Opaque, it comes in remixed form, and that was a good decision by the band. The production is richer – louder kicks from the drum machine and deeper bass – and the overall sound on this new, remastered edition is noticeably more sinister and Siouxsie Sioux-sounding. It makes the original sound too thin in comparison. The psychedelic pop tune “Millimillenary,” a true rarity first appearing on an NME compilation, is also noted for being the debut of bassist Simon Raymonde. He took over for Will Heggie, who was a force behind the 4-stringer in his own right on early CT recordings.
Both LPs hit stores on Friday, July 17 and are essential for any Cocteau Twins fan. If you can only invest in one release, I recommend The Pink Opaque, as it perfectly showcases how both of the time and ahead of the game the Cocteau Twins were as visionaries in alternative rock. Pre-orders are available now.
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