Cocteau Twins

BBC Sessions

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On the surface, this isn't as essential a release as other BBC sessions LPs. Because the Cocteaus used drum machines, the backing tracks and the rhythms replicate the known versions much more than other bands forced to record live in the studio. Yet BBC Sessions is still a whopper of a treat for fans and the uninitiated, two hours of sound that builds and builds until one is overcome with unspeakable, barely understood emotions. At 30 songs on two CDs, it's an overview that sheds light on the masterful way the trio mutated so subtly, until their artistically premature end. It starts a bit too slowly on disc one, when the band couldn't really fight accusations of being Siouxsie & the Banshees wannabes -- they were stealing whole dollops of the Banshees' vanguard style -- but were somehow captivating anyway. The first half of the CD indulges liberally in this period before the magic really starts in, firing off with one of the two previously unreleased songs, a stark and sharply striking cover of "Strange Fruit" that has to startle fans of the Billie Holiday standard. Haunting! From there it starts to upshift, gaining more confidence and bushels of beauty as Elizabeth Fraser starts to blossom into one of the most riveting voices to ever blow air into a mic. The band's playing becomes suppler, less tense and taut, and more billowing, setting the tone for the prettier aspects of the U.K. dream pop movement that would come later. As disc two opens, one really strikes gold, as a more advanced Robin Guthrie begins to explore soundscapes barely touched on in pop history, leaving Fraser to surf and float among the splendor like a North Pole adventurer putting her spikes into a wonderful winter snowstorm. Mesmerizing guitar tapestries mix with more oblique and obscurer sounds and ever-gentler rhythms to create the most striking moods imaginable. Bells chime, bass trembles, guitars bob and hover, and vocals coo and play. It's still hard to imagine more subconscious yet playful, artistic music. By the time one hits 1996 and the ever-glistening Milk & Kisses era, the group, anything but a spent force, is finding yet new ways to restate a case of wonder that seems ever more limitless as one approaches track 30. Waking dreams have almost never sounded better than this.

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