After seemingly solidifying their line-up with 1984's Treasure Cocteau Twins went back to being a duo for the 1986 follow-up, Victorialand. Elizabeth Frasier and Robin Guthrie are the core of the group on this record, as Simon Raymonde had been drafted to work on Filigree & Shadow, the second LP by This Mortal Coil. Raymonde would be back for The Moon and the Melodies however.
With the absence of Raymonde, the first thing immediately apparent about this album is the lack of percussion throughout most of it. Effectively, we've moved out of dream pop territory into ambient sounds. It is still gorgeous, but it did present a problem for the media of the time: apparently initial 33 RPM vinyl test pressings were of an inadequate fidelity to the original master tapes. The sounds are very subtle compared to songs like "In Our Angelhood" and "Persephonie" – to accurately capture what was recorded, Victorialand was issued as a 45 RPM 12-inch. Knowing that, it is easy to understand why this album clocks in at barely more that half an hour – almost an EP rather than an LP!
Suffice it to say that the compact disc I own does not suffer the physical and mechanical limitations of a vinyl record. Honestly though, based on the physics of vinyl, they probably should have issued this as a series of 78 RPM discs in 1986 just to appease and annoy the audiophiles. Given what I've read about mastering for vinyl, I have pretty much concluded that it is not worth my time and money. My music would simply not be appropriate for vinyl and no one would get any more out of the listening experience on that format than they would on compact disc (or MP3, or streaming media).
But I think back to when and how Victorialand was recorded; sound was laid on analogue tape, which simply translates better to analogue vinyl grooves. The bedrock, so to speak, was already there and it was a straight line from engineering to mastering to mass production. That said, it is easier to go from analogue to digital than the other way around.
I digress, however...the bottom line is that when I look at the history of recorded music, I find myself grateful that I have it so freaking easy when it comes to fixing sound into a transferable medium. Of course, so does everyone else, so getting your single voice heard in that screaming choir of voices is now the more difficult part.
As noted prior, given that Victorialand is little more than 32 minutes long, it plays fast and is done like a cold breeze before you know what happened. With the mood created here (the title comes from a territory in Antarctica), I'm half-tempted to shuffle this one up with Kate Bush's 50 Words For Snow - maybe even throw in "Winter" by Tori Amos and "Arctic Summer" by B-Movie for good measure.
No one track really stands out for me here...I prefer to think of Victorialand as one piece with nine movements (which makes me glad to not have to flip the record over).