Saturday, February 28, 2009

Heaven or Las Dishes

Artist: Cocteau Twins
Album: Heaven or Las Vegas
Released in: 1990

This is one of my desert island albums: beautiful, richly emotional and steeped in personal memories. When I was in high school, my sister (then in college) made me a mix tape. It's hard to convey how thrilled this made me -- my super cool older sis honoring me with some of her favorite tracks. The second track on Heaven or Las Vegas (Pitch the Baby) played a starring role, along with other gems that heavily influenced my subsequent musical taste (e.g., Portishead - It's a Fire, Pizzicato Five - Good, etc.).

However, my sister neglected to provide a track listing, so I didn't really discover the Cocteau Twins until one summer just after high school. Without knowing much about me besides that I like electronica, a co-worker at the time told me, without hesitation, that I would love this album. He was completely right. (His recommendations were in general spot on: he also introduced me to Stereolab).

Years later, I was spending a lot of time driving up and down I-91 in Connecticut. I listened to this album so much on the northward swing that the tracks became correlated with the legs of the journey. Cherry-Coloured Funk will always evoke for me pulling out of my parent's driveway and hitting the road. Road, River and Rail is immediately after the tangle of highways around Hartford.

The title track Heaven or Las Vegas must have been somewhere around New Britain. I can't quite remember because I was probably too busy singing along. The track is the climax of the album, and the soaring chorus still makes me swoon. That's not to denigrate the rest of the tracks, though (Iceblink Luck and Fotzepolitic are particularly wonderful). Moreover, the album is extremely well-structured -- every track is ordered exactly where it should be. I have moved on to make my own mix tapes (er.... CDs) these days, and they usually have a similar dynamic to this album: a slow-building but attention-grabbing start, high-energy tracks near the beginning, a climax, and then a slow winding-down with a stirring, often longer final track.

I suppose I can't say enough good things about this album, but, as they used to say on Reading Rainbow, you don't have to take my word for it. AllMusic also effuses (in particular about the track HoLV), and (according to the Cocteau Twins' own website) apparently the album is widely cited as the fan favorite. Below is Heaven or Las Vegas, although I feel its impact is slightly reduced without the context of the surrounding songs -- the album is simply so cohesive that it works best listened to all at one time. Nevertheless, enjoy.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dishes Bell Knoll

Artist: Cocteau Twins
Album: Blue Bell Knoll
Released in: 1988
But Really Sounds: Timeless

All the hallmarks of the Cocteau Twins are here:
  • ethereal, other-worldly synths, guitars, harpsichords, etc.
  • feathery light and sky high melody lines with unintelligible lyrics
  • delicate layering of the sounds and soaring climaxes (e.g., 1:45 or so into Athol-Brose)
  • understated but perfect drum tracks
The overall effect is quite beautiful. I'd forgotten how good this album is -- the two other Cocteau Twins albums I own (Heaven or Las Vegas and Victorialand) are soaked in wonderful memories for me so this one tends to fade away.

Take a listen:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Artist: Circulation
Album: Colours
Released in: 2000

It's been a while. Life got in the way of the slow, inexorable progress of the Dishes Project (home for the holidays, professional conference, job interview, cross-country trip, house guests). But Circulation are also at least partially to blame here. This is a double album, with both CDs clocking in at well over an hour. That's a lot of dish-washing.

So, were the many dish-washing sessions spent listening to this album worth it? On the main, yes. Circulation are a tech-house duo from England, and they know their stuff. Most of the tracks are very well-balanced: smooth yet bumping, classy yet with a slightly off-the-wall sample. They are reminiscent of Underworld in the slow layering and adding of synths/drums/etc. as a song begins, but they do have one main drawback. The tracks lack emotional punch (in stark contrast to Underworld). The most these tracks inspire is that wonderful 'get moving' itch that all good techno makes you have, but they don't grab you and take you somewhere new and exciting... y'know what I mean?

Anyway, you can judge for yourself. Here are my two favorite tracks from the album: White and Turquoise (yes, all the song names are colors). White is a great example of the slow build, and it has a fantastic, bouncy groove; wait for the silly sample at 4:00 or so. Turquoise would be right at home on SomaFM's Secret Agent radio station. Enjoy!