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It is barely 38 minutes long and turned 25 years old last month. On par with Treasure for Cocteau Twins at the apex of their craft, Heaven or Las Vegas is the first album of the group's that I listened to and fell in love with.

I was introduced when someone with whom I had a brief communication in the summer of 2002 sent me an MP3 copy of "Frou Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires." Prior to this she had insulted me for not having heard of the group. "You can't call yourself a goth boy and not have heard of the [sic] Cocteau Twins!" Whether or not this was intended as some sort of sardonic joke is irrelevant – the song turned out to be more lovely than the person who introduced it to me ever was.

In a way, having that memory is kind of perfect in association with Cocteau Twins. The music is absolutely gorgeous, but whenever Elizabeth Frasier actually lets comprehensible English words slip off of her tongue, the subject matter relates to absolute human misery. A little bitter in your sweet, there.

Is there any English on Heaven or Las Vegas? On the title cut of the LP, I think I can hear the aforementioned title sung during the chorus. As expected, pretty much everything else is left up to interpretation.

I suppose I should reflect on why I love this particular album so much, but I can't really explain it. The Cocteau Twin sound just naturally resonated with me and I suspect that when one finds a music group they click with, there is an inherit bias towards the first album by the group that was listened to – or even the first song. So, if pressed for my favourite LP and song, I'd say Heaven of Las Vegas and it's closer "Frou Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires" with little awareness of the introductory bias which may or may not actually exist.

Regardless, I loved the sound so much that I made it essential to get my hands on everything I could and have a complete collection. This is naturally impossible, given the alternate versions and rarities floating around, but I feel that with all of the proper LPs and the compilations collecting the singles and EPs, I've grabbed all that one without unlimited means can get their hands on as a lover of music.

Heaven or Las Vegas would be Cocteau Twins last proper album for 4AD (in the United States they would remain on Capitol until the end of their career). Two more LPs would be released before their time as an active recording and touring group came to a close. Welcome to the 1990s and the dénouement…

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In all, Cocteau Twins had fifteen unique singles and extended plays to accompany their eight proper studio albums. Nine of these releases are included on the first two discs of Lullabies to Violaine. The remaining seven (which would be nine, had the two versions of Tishbite and Violaine not been re-sequenced as single EPs with song overlap accounted for) make up the final two discs of the compilation.

Disc three (or disc one of Volume 2) begins with the three songs from Evangeline. By 1993, Cocteau Twins were firmly established in their sound – a band who was a genre unto themselves. This group, so unique yet recognisable, was the type of band who never opened a sentence where the phrase was spoken, “they sound like,” but would often rightly conclude it.

Evageline closes with “Summer-Blink,” which then takes us 180 degrees into the Snow EP, which contains the only two holiday songs the group ever recorded: “Winter Wonderland” and “Frosty the Snowman.” Here’s the thing though…these aren’t technically holiday songs. The former is a little love song set against a snowy backdrop while the latter is a bit of winter fantasy. These are songs which have been co-opted by the holiday season. Neither one mentions Christmas or any other December holiday, nor even the month of December itself. “Jingle Bells” and “Sleigh Ride” have suffered the same fate as “Winter Wonderland” and “Frosty the Snowman.”

So, while it is accurate to say that Cocteau Twins never recorded any holiday music, if I am to listen to any music associated with a certain overblown December holiday, I much prefer that it features the voice of Elizabeth Fraser and the instrumentation of Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde. As an added bonus, outside of This Mortal Coil’s cover of “Song to the Siren,” these two songs are a rare opportunity to hear Fraser singing intelligible lyrics.

The period of 1993 through 1996 only contained two Cocteau Twins albums: Four Calendar Café and Milk and Kisses. There was at least one single or EP for every year of that time period. And then it was all over...Lullabies to Violaine, Garlands to Milk and Kisses.

On Cocteau Twins’ website is a much more befitting epilogue than I could ever write. Would I personally want them to get back together so I could have a chance to see a performance that I didn’t have in my youth? I honestly don’t know – reunions are a huge gamble and I know it wouldn’t be the same. You can’t go home again, lightning never strikes twice and so on and so forth…

Nearly every song sounds strangely out of time and timeless and perhaps it’s fitting that I am out of time myself in experiencing them. I was too young to be there with any real awareness when they first came out, but how I would have liked to be.

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Originally released in 2005 as a four disc set and then split into two volumes of two discs each, Lullabies to Violaine collects all of the odds and ends of Cocteau Twins’ discography. With very few notable omissions, all of the singles and extended plays are represented here. For a basic collector like myself who doesn’t like driving myself mad looking for everything by bands I love, this kind of compilation is perfect. I already have the albums, so a compilation set of all of the non-LP tracks and alternative versions of songs is perfect when I’m looking to fill most, if not all of the holes in my collection.

It’s even chronologically sequenced, which is more than you can say for my “Off The Rack” entries about Cocteau Twins. “Why,” you may be asking, “if you have all of the albums did you skip everything after Blue Bell Knoll and decide to go directly to the compilations?” That’s a good question – and I even have an answer for it! Two answers, actually…

First, I decided that since it was December and since Lullabies to Violaine contains the only two holiday-themed songs ever performed by the group, I’d better listen to it now or not get to it for another year. I have a strict rule against listening to December holiday music outside of December (or even past the 25th, to be honest) if I can avoid it – I certainly don’t play it myself! Since skipping tracks is not an option I am going to entertain – it’s all or nothing in the world of OTR – to keep the holiday music where it belongs, I’m listening to this set now. I don’t anticipate encountering this “problem” very often.

Secondly, I realised that with Blue Bell Knoll, I had completed listening to all of the Cocteau Twins albums from the 1980s. Everything else is from the 1990s, starting with Heaven or Las Vegas. Since the group had so many singles and EPs released in-between and alongside their albums, it actually felt natural to complete the 1980s by listening to what wasn’t necessarily contained on the albums and then do the same with the 1990s before delving into those albums. I probably should have done this with Past Masters when I listened through my collection of albums by The Beatles.

The first volume of Lullabies to Violaine covers 1982 through 1990. The second covers 1993 through 1996. The liner notes delineate where each set of tracks was originally divided into their various original releases. The name of the compilation is actually taken from the names of the first and final EPs. Lullabies was released in 1982 while Violaine closed things out in 1996.

Listening through this set, despite it’s generous four disc, four hour running time, is like a quicker version of revisiting the history and evolution of the group. Lullabies and Peppermint Pig (the first six songs on disc one) are quite the bursts of post-punk. By the time one hears songs from Sunburst and Snowblind, things are taking a dreamier turn, although the group isn’t quite there yet. There is a lovely 12” version of “Sugar Hiccup” along with the shimmering “From the Flagstones” and “Hitherto” but “Because of Whirl-Jack” sounds like a close sibling to “In Our Angelhood,” from Head Over Heels.

In case you ever want to know where Claire Voyant stole the inspiration to the bassline for “Close To Me,” take a listen to the title cut of The Spangle Maker. More notable though is “Pearly-Dewdrop’s Drops,” which is a great starting point for the newcomer wanting to know what Cocteau twins sound like. It was also their first song to get the music video treatment. On Lullabies to Violaine it is presented as an “alternate version,” but I’m hard-pressed to tell you how it differs from any other versions of the song I’ve heard. There’s a 7” version of the song from The Pink Opaque, but I feel like I’d really have to examine each track closely to figure out the exact differences between the two. It’s not something which particularly bothers me.

In all, nine EPs are represented on the first two discs of Lullabies to Violaine and the amount of overlap with what was released on the proper LPs is staggeringly low. Cocteau Twins treated their singles and EPs with the same care with which they treated their albums. In considering ratio of remixes and edits to original material, the balance greatly favours the latter. Perhaps if I didn’t love this group so much, I would find this annoying (for the casual fan who just wanted quick compilations, there was The Pink Opaque which was later replaced by Stars and Topsoil - I own neither). However, as I’ve said before, I own all of the original albums, so having a compilation of highlights from those is useless to me. This complements and completes my collection.

Tomorrow I listen to the second half of this set – yes, the version I own is not the original four-disc package, but the two part split. Could you not tell by the title of this entry?

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Released in October of 1988, Blue Bell Knoll found all three Cocteau Twins back together for a proper LP for the first time since Treasure. This was also the first Cocteau Twins record which received distribution in the United States (not counting the 1985 compilation The Pink Opaque).

When it was originally released, one could buy Blue Bell Knoll in one of the following formats: vinyl LP, cassette tape, compact disc or digital audio tape (DAT). Does anyone else remember DAT? While I never personally touched one, I remember DAT (along with the similar competitor, digital compact cassette) being pushed by audio manufacturers in the early to mid-1990s along with minidiscs as part of some sort of "digital recording revolution." At the time, burning a CD was expensive – these other two formats promised people the ability to record their music without the cost. Of course, we all know how good industry promises are.

DAT and DCC seemed idiotic from the onset. What, exactly, is the point of recording something digitally on a reel-to-reel system? The appeal of the compact disc was a perfect recording with instant access on a pocket-sized format. Had it not been for the MP3, I think that the minidisc would have gained a good share of market traction (and anti-piracy backlash). I remember using minidiscs for a brief period at WAIH, before a computer was installed in the air studio. They were as convenient as air studio cartridges without the bulk or winding. Of course, they were pointless once one could record a file on a computer and load it with even more portability and convenience.

Blue Bell Knoll is not an album I am intimately familiar with. It's another quick one – about 35 minutes long. Like Victorialand, it is named after a place (in this case Bluebell Knoll in Utah) but sonically, it is more like a cross between Treasure and the group's next album: Heaven or Las Vegas. Over the years it has received mixed reviews. Personally, I don't hate or dislike anything this group has put out...and I've come to the point where I've confessed to myself that I can't objectively rank albums. So, subjectively, this is another pretty set from the group, but not the first one I'd recommend to a newcomer.

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According to the group, this is not a Cocteau Twins record. On the group's website, in the discography section, it is listed under "Compilations, Collaborations & Special Appearances" along with This Mortal Coil's two 1980s LPs. When one rips the disc using Windows Media Player, the metadata auto-populates with the names listed in a different order than they appear on the cover.

For my part, I defer to the wishes of the original artists, hence what you see in title of this post being the same as what appears on the LP cover. However, when it comes to the disc position on the rack, I catalogue it the same way does: as if it were a Cocteau Twins record. The boring truth regarding my reason for this is simple: I just can't freaking remember whose name comes first on the cover listing if I'm not looking directly at it! So, rather than go hunting in B for Budd (technically correct) or F for Fraser (WMP incorrect), it gets nestled safely in-between the proper Cocteau Twins LPs Victorialand and Blue Bell Knoll.

1986 was a busy year for Cocteau Twins - The Moon and the Melodies was released in November while Victorialand had come out in April sans Simon Raymonde because of his work on This Mortal Coil's Filigree & Shadow (also released in 1986). Harold Budd was a composer and pianist who collaborated with the three members of Cocteau Twins to create a soundtrack for a television programme. When the programme never got made, they kept the material which had been recorded and released it as an independent project.

Given the origins, it is not surprising that most of the work on here is instrumental. Elizabeth Fraser can be heard singing on only half of the tracks on the LP: "Sea, Swallow Me;" "Eyes Are Mosaics;" "She Will Destroy You;" and "Ooze Out and Away, Onehow." On the CD, these are tracks 1, 4, 5 and 8, respectively. However, on the vinyl LP, Elizabeth Fraser's voice ends up opening and closing not only the whole record, but each side of it as well. This is what I call well balanced.

Dif Juz saxophonist Richard Thomas joins in on his primary instrument for "She Will Destroy You" and "The Ghost Has No Name," then switches to drums for "Bloody and Blunt." Around this time Dif Juz went on "an extended hiatus," never officially breaking up but the members of the group have yet to – and likely won't – collaborate again.

The Moon and the Melodies sounds very much like Victorialand, perhaps with a few louder moments here and there. It is about five minutes longer than that album, which is still a quick listen. We remain firmly in the realm of dreampop.

I find myself listening to this the day after I ventured out to catch a few bands on the Wild Kindness Records Showcase, which was put on at Cattivo as part of R.A.N.T. in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighbourhood. Opening that set was a group called Sleep Experiments. Upon hearing their dreamy, shoegaze, I thought, "this is a lot like Cocteau Twins…or Pittsburgh's own Low Sunday with a female vocalist." I bought their CD; expect me to write about it once Off the Rack gets to the letter S.

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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).

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Released on November 1st, 1984 – exactly one year after Head Over Heals - was Cocteau Twins' third and probably most aptly named album: Treasure. Every group with a long discography has a "defining album," the one you tell newcomers to listen to first to gauge whether or not they will actually like a band (and whether or not said newcomer is to be mocked for their "taste"). In Treasure, Cocteau Twins' post-punk past collides with and acquiesces to their dream-pop destiny. Back to being a trio with the addition of bassist Simon Raymonde to the duo of Elizabeth Frazier and Robin Guthrie, this is the line-up which defined the group for the rest of their career.

I don't remember when or where I bought my copy of this album, only that it has been in my collection seemingly forever (though I do know it wasn't the first Cocteau Twins disc I purchased). "Ivo" (perhaps a nod to 4AD owner Ivo Russell-Watts) opens the set followed by "Lorelei." These two songs immediately bring the album up to the heavens; I can only imagine a cathedral being the only appropriate venue for them to be performed in.

"Beatrix" pulls back a little bit, lacking in percussion but increasing the gothic moodiness. "Persephone" brings the beats back, the song a sibling to "When Mama Was Moth," albeit slightly more uptempo and slightly less intense. I listen to it and love it, but my brain still foolishly tries to understand the lyrics, as if there are really any to actually be understood. "Paper chase is on, join the rat-race, for a timepiece never changes face" – is one of many phrases I've mentally moulded out of Fraziers sung syllables.

"Pandora (for Cindy)" is pure dream-pop and quite a contrast to "Persephone." On my copy of Treasure, there is actually a three second gap between the two songs, as if a breather is needed before the mood changes. Intensity gives was to relaxation and haste to breeziness.

And that is how side A of the record closes. Side B opens with "Amelia," a song which doesn't take us too far from its predecessor. "Aloysius" is perhaps the song with the most open space on the set (it's also the second time you hear a 4/4 beat on the record). While reverb is still prevalent and the guitars still shimmer, there are more rests in many of the instruments – slightly more breathing room.

A gothic ambience returns with "Cicely," but the spidery guitars lines of Garlands have been married to the shimmering which would define the group henceforth. Still, this is the song where Frazier sounds most like Siouxsie Sioux on this record.

"Otterley" is a downright slow piece. There is not so much singing as there is whispering throughout it. If I were cast adrift in a small, leaky rowboat down a foggy river in the middle of the forest at night, this is pretty much what would be playing in my head (in between flashes of terror at the realisation that I'm probably not too many steps away from either drowning, being devoured or getting horribly maimed or killed).

Closing song "Donimo," takes the outro of "Otterley" and slowly glides to a choir of Elizabeth Fraziers (it sounds like her voice was multi-tracked in any case). The build is deliberate before exploding into a mid-tempo 8/8 beat where the kick is on 2. The song ebbs and flows but brings things into the stratosphere as it concludes the album. We've come full-circle and the record is perfectly balanced.

For me, this is a five-star album. I enjoy listening to this all the way through and have no desire to reach for the skip button or even put it on shuffle play. Each individual song is perfect in its own right and all ten tracks are in the correct order. The musical journey is extremely satisfying with just the right amount of contrast and turns to keep things interesting but not arresting.

Had Treasure never been recorded and released, we might have never had Lush, Miranda Sex Garden or Claire Voyant. What a pity that would be.

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Released in August of 1983, one year and two months after Garlands, Head Over Heels opens with a thunderclap of a drum machine beat. "When Mama Was Moth" is easily one of the Cocteau Twins darkest and most intense songs. It is heavy drumbeats, a swirl of Robin Guthrie's guitar distorted by flange and reverb and Elizabeth Frazier's voice wailing through the cacophony. Becoming a duo – bassist Will Heggie had left and Simon Raymonde had yet to join – seemed to make the group stronger, more intense.

During a brief period of time when I was DJing Ceremony with some regularity (though not a regular and never to become one), I played "When Mama Was Moth" early in the night followed by "Birds of Death" by Diamanda Galás. The two songs work very well together, though neither is particularly danceable. Of course, when the club first opens, no one wants to dance anyhow. In the first hour of any goth night, you set the atmosphere while people get their drink on. Two or three beers or Kamakazees in and you've got the black-clad masses shuffling out to the dance floor (and wanting to hear singles and 12-inch edits).

Someone simply referred to as "Ally" is thanked in the liner notes for the saxophone in "Five Ten Fiftyfold." I don’t generally consider the saxophone a "creepy" instrument…until I hear it in this song (and "Sweethome Under White Clouds" by the Virgin Prunes…and "In Fear of Fear" by Bauhaus…).

"Sugar Hiccup" is downright pastoral compared to its two predecessors. Knowing now what was to come, it nods to a future full of "Fluffy Tufts," "Pearly DewDrops' Drops" and "Frou Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires." Track 4, "In Our Angelhood" frantically returns the album to status quo.

Despite retaining and, in most cases, increasing the darkness of Garlands, there's an emerging atmospheric and ethereal quality to Head Over Heels which wasn't present before. Perhaps it is all of the effects on the instruments or the fact that Frazier is mostly abandoning the English language in her lyrics, but this album was a big step.

Regarding the singing and lyrics (or perceived lack thereof), one only catches recognisable words in flashes on this album. "Multifoiled" sounds like post-punk jazz, with the title being the only comprehensible word sung in the song. Elsewhere, it's all scat-singing. And "Multifoiled" is hardly unique in having the title drop being the only recognisable thing sung during the song. Every other song I've mentioned – "When Mama Was Moth," "Five Ten Fiftyfold," "Sugar Hiccup" and "In Our Angelhood" is the same way. If lyrics are a painting, we're looking at a piece of impressionism or surrealism when popular music usually demands obvious abstractions or flat out realism.

Head Over Heels is five minutes longer than Garlands, but feels much shorter. I find myself speeding through these songs, many of them in ¾, drawn in and then quickly hurried out of the other side. Final track "Musette And Drums" quickly fades out and I can scarcely believe that it's over already.

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My daughter, Amélie turns two years old today, which was how old I became when the Cocteau Twins' 1982 debut LP, Garlands was released. The album was released in June, my birthday is in November. Garlands does not sound like a summer record.

Kind of like how Amélie doesn't seem like a summer baby. Compared to her big sister, Madeline, she's moodier and those moods are more intense. The older girl is – and has always been – more laid back. It makes me think these two were born in seasons opposite their dispositions.

Garlands openers "Blood Bitch" and "Wax And Wane" were played fairly often at Ceremony when the night still existed, I still attended and it still had a couple of old school DJs. "Grail Overfloweth" seems to be a favourite of the mixmakers on 8Tracks.

For me to reiterate the history of those group would be pointless here. Cocteau Twins have one of the most comprehensive band websites online and the page for Garlands is no exception. As far as I'm concerned, this is what a band website should look like and how it should function. Funny how a group who disbanded over fifteen years ago and who had a reputation for being media-shy and somewhat enigmatic is so open in the digital age.

I bought my copy of Garlands from the used bin at Eide's Music in Pittsburgh's Strip District. According to the sticker still affixed to the case, it cost me $7.50 plus tax. Since I own the United States version, the album barely clocks in at 33 minutes – almost an EP rather than an album. Canada and the United Kingdom got more robust releases (if you purchased the cassette or compact disc).

When I think of Cocteau Twins, the words "primarily purveyors of dream pop" generally come to mind. However, Garlands is very post-punk. Elizabeth Frasier's voice is unmistakably distinctive, but it is a shock to have it surrounded by spidery basslines and creaky moaning-organ guitars. The drum machine, of course, remained a fixture but became less lo-fidelity as the years went on. In some respects, it sounds like a Siouxsie & the Banshees album from around the same era with doses of Metal Box Public Image Ltd.

I am always intrigued by debut albums by bands with a generous discography. When a group releases enough material, they nearly always become their own subgenre. To go all the way back to the beginning and to be able to easily pick out roots and influences is like being in a time warp. Yes, I can see the future, but what would it have been like to buy this record in 1982 when it was the only one in existence?

Well, it would have been like buying a record by a new band, obviously. Then, ten years later, when one was listening to Heaven or Las Vegas and waiting for Four Calendar Café to come out you could say, "wow! This band has been around for ten years!" That seems to be how it plays out: I'm looking at albums that were released when I was a teenager and despite the obvious fact that time marches on, still find myself having to accept the fact that, yes, time has passed and albums I considered new are now thought or as "classics" or "gold" or merely "archival." Then again, I buy albums from when I was younger than that – if I was even born at all. I never found my parents music collection all that great, despite containing music from similar years as my collection, my music version of the 1980s sounds nothing like theirs did.

My daughters will probably just think it odd that I still buy physical media and go through the trouble of converting it to digital instead of just buying digital in the first place.

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For this Off the Rack entry, I'm taking a break from the letter C to jump back and plug one of the holes missing from one of the other letters I've already listened through. Nestled in between several albums by The Beatles and a best of compilation by Berlin is a CD I purchased a few years ago because I was DJing a Halloween event and wanted to spin a particular song. The disc in question is Bel Canto's 1992 set Shimmering, Warm & Bright. The setlist for the aforementioned Halloween event was posted online and that's about the extent I'm going to speak of said event for the time being.

"Bel canto" translated from Italian means "beautiful singing." The dictionary definition is as follows: "a lyrical style of operatic singing using a full rich broad tone and smooth phrasing." I am hard-pressed to recall a musical group with such an appropriate name as Bel Canto. It's a bit funny – to me, anyhow – that I'm jumping back out of C instead of pressing on. The next group in C is a marathon of albums by the Cocteau Twins, which would bookend quite nicely with Bel Canto (hear also, Claire Voyant, Lush, The Sundays, etc.).

Shimmering, Warm & Bright is a quick listen, at only 46 minutes in length. I wonder how it would be divided as a record, because tracks five and six ("Sleep in Deep" and "Buthania") run together. Judging by the durations of the final four songs, I think track 6 would close side A with track 7, "Le Temps Dégagé" opening side B. I wonder if this album was even released on vinyl – by the early 1990s, record labels pretty much ceased doing vinyl releases as CDs were the favoured format (especially since labels made more money with every CD sold over every vinyl record sold). I'm betting that Bel Canto's first two albums, both released in the second half of the 1980s were released on vinyl.

Not that it matters so much for me in the here and now...I'm listening to MP3 versions of my CD copy.

I've made it up to "Spiderdust," which, as far as I'm concerned, is essential for a Halloween playlist. Anneli M. Drecker is all but yelping during the chorus, which is surrounded by lyrics comparing love and lust – two states of emotion so indistinct as to be interchangeable and intertwined – to black magic. Is a burning in the heart really so different from a burning in the loins? Is desire just a coin with two sides?

Shimmering, Warm & Bright is a perfectly sequenced album. Opener "Unicorn" draws you in and from there the songs ebb and flow in a wonderful journey which concludes with the near-eight minute coda that is "Mornixuur." If the Cocteau Twins and In The Nursery ever collaborated, I think something akin to "Mornixuur" would be the result.

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After two live albums, Les Claypool's Frog Brigade was renamed The Les Claypool Frog Brigade, a more definite title for what would be the group's sole studio album, Purple Onion. Released September 24th, 2002, I don't remember playing this much on my radio show at the time. It was on WAIH's playlist though, and somehow a copy made it into my CD collection.

The one song I do remember is track two, "David Makalaster," which follows the eponymous opener. It's catchy as hell, with bouncy lyrics: "I'm David Makalaster, your ten o'clock newscaster, good evening and here's what's new..."

It's been well over a decade since I gave this disc a listen, and as I reacquaint myself with it, I can't help but to think that this sounds like a Primus album. There are fewer nods to the jam band scene and a whole lot of tighter – albeit still experimental – rock songs on the set. The two longest tracks on here are the closers, "David Makalaster II" and "Cosmic Highway," neither of which make it past eight minutes.

A lot of guest musicians pay the Frog Brigade a visit on this set. A couple of members of Fishbone, bassist Norwood Fisher and drummer Fish Fisher show up. The former plays with another bassist, Lonnie Marshall (Weapon of Choice) along with Claypool to form a triple bass attack on "D's Diner." Fish leads his rhythm work to "Whamola," a song named after a one-string upright percussive bass. Warren Haynes (of the Allman Brothers Band) lends guitar work to "Buzzards of Green Hill." And Ben Barns and Sam Bass of Deadweight play on numerous Purple Onion songs.

"David Makalaster II" is the pessimistic mirror to "David Makalaster." While the latter is bouncy, optimistic and a bit naïve, part II slows the tempo and declares that the revolution is about to begin as "vengeance is back in style," whereas before "apathy [was] back in style." If you are up for some mood whiplash, play the songs back to back.

Other songs that stood out for me are "Lights in the Sky," "D's Diner" (about an actual place), "Barrington Hall" (about the counterculture dorm at UC Berkeley) and "Ding Dang," a song about how what goes around comes around.

Purple Onion closes with "Cosmic Highway," the most Phish-y thing on this set. It's a good closer, even if it does look back to the two Live Frogs albums. Of course, it could be said that the rest of the disc looks back even further more often than not, to the days of Primus. Considering that Primus never broke up, but merely went on hiatus, it could be said that this is looking forwards as well. The group began playing together again in 2003, eventually deciding to record another album in 2011.

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Throughout the 1990s Primus was a college radio staple. You couldn't scan the left of the dial without running into "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver" or "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver." Primus was a more demented Red Hot Chili Peppers – in other words, perfect for college radio. They lasted from 1986 until 2000. During that time, bassist Les Claypool released one solo album in 1996 entitled Highball With the Devil under the moniker Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel.

During the summer of 2000, Claypool collaborated with Trey Anastasio (Phish) and Stewart Copeland (The Police) to form Oysterhead. The group's sole LP, The Grand Pecking Order was released October 2nd, 2001. There was a brief tour in support of the album and the group subsequently disbanded afterwards, having a one-off reunion five years later.

And with that we come to what, on the cover of the CD case, is Colonel Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. On the edge of the jewel case, it is simply Les Claypool's Frog Brigade - Live Frogs: Set 1. The Frog Brigade actually came together during the Oysterhead year(s), as both "sets" (there were a total of two released) were recorded over two days at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco in October of 2000.

Live Frogs: Set 2 is Pink Floyd's 1977 LP Animals covered in it's entirety. I don't own a copy since I have Pink Floyd's original and am disinclined to revisit another band performing what I consider to be an already perfect set of songs. The Frogs do get into Pink Floyd on set 1 however, as the disc closes with their rendition of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond."

The glut of Pink Floyd reverence should tell you where we are at here. If you are still confused, the opening song, a cover of King Crimson's "Thela Hun Ginjeet" and the extended running times of each track (only one song is less than six minutes long) should lay any doubt to rest. This is jam-band prog-land. As an aside, there is one final cover: in the middle of the Sausage's "Shattering Song," a couple of verses from the Doors' "Riders on the Storm" pop up during an extended jam.

Incidentally, for those who are confused, Sausage was Primus before their line-up solidified. They get three songs on this set: "Riddles Are Abound Tonight," "Shattering Song" and "Girls For Single Men." Filling out the five originals here are two Holy Mackerel pieces: "Hendershot" and "Running The Gauntlet."

When this disc made WAIH's playlist (because I put it there), I chose "Riddles Are Abound Tonight" to play on the morning show – namely because there wasn't enough time to play anything else in that time slot. Extended jam pieces are great for dorm room listening, but not so great on the radio during drive time.

Admittedly, I haven't listened to this disc much since its initial release. In fact, I almost forget I have it until I come across it when I rearrange my music collection. It's not that I dislike what I'm hearing or think it's a bad set of songs – not at all. The musicianship on Live Frogs is excellent. If it weren't for the occasional crowd noises and Les Claypool's stage banter, I'd swear this was a studio album – that's how tight this band is.

If anything, it's constraints on my time which keep me from putting on a set of headphones and zoning out to prog rock and jam band music...and perhaps that I'm not a pot smoker has something to do with it too. If I brought CDs into work, that is probably where I'd put this set on if I felt inclined to. When I don't have music to listen to at work – even something in the background to give me a baseline to "white noise" to hang onto, it makes work less pleasant than it already is. Thankfully the era of having to cart CDs to the job has passed and I can stream music from internet radio stations (I've always avoided commercial broadcast radio if possible, for reasons which should be obvious). records scrobbles by Les Claypool's Frog Brigade simply as Les Claypool. I imagine that this is for simplicity's sake. I can see myself doing the same thing if I was importing Claypool's non-Primus work into a radio automation system, since this type of software makes sure artists are time separated based on the exact name entered into the field.

Live Frogs: Set 1 closes with Les Claypool saying, "we'll be back into twenty minutes with more Pink Floyd than any human being should ever withstand." A cheer goes up in the crowd and then fades out to end the disc. Perhaps if I ever find it cheap in the used bin, I will buy a copy of Live Frogs: Set 2 just to complete my collection and to revisit it since I haven't actually heard it in fifteen years. Les Claypool's Frogs had three LPs in total: the two live sets and one studio disc entitled Purple Onion. Two-thirds of their discography resides on my CD rack.

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With only six proper studio LPs spanning 1977-1985, it's not difficult to complete a basic collection of music by The Clash. This is one of those moments where I look at my music collection and think, "well, I've dropped the ball on this one." I quite enjoy this band's music and really should have all of their albums, but for whatever reason I've yet to take the plunge and just buy the fucking CDs already. So, The Essential Clash is the only set in my collection – a two disc compilation album collecting 40 tracks of previously released material.

It makes sense that Sony Music would include The Clash in their Essential series. For one thing, the band has always been signed to the label or one of their imprints. Furthermore, they never had an album that did go at least gold. The 1985 swan song, Cut The Crap even went silver, 1979's London Calling went platinum and 1982's Combat Rock went double platinum. Not bad for four punks from England.

For me, a good compilation is one which complements and completes the rest of one's music collection. When I am looking to put together everything possible of what a group has released commercially, I try to find a set which fills in the gaps first and foremost. To this end, I prefer singles compilations which include non-LP releases and B-sides. Unfortunately, this care and attention wasn't part of the equation when I bought Essential from a used bin somewhere ten years ago, but apparently I got lucky as this compilation collects all of the singles (albeit lacking in many B-sides) along with significant LP cuts and places them in chronological order. As such, I'm going to keep this in my collection even when I do get around to buying those six proper LPs (along with Black Market Clash and Super Black Market Clash).

So, we begin Essential in 1977. More than the first half of disc one is devoted to songs from The Clash (jumping back and forth between the US and UK versions of the LP). In all, thirteen tracks on Essential come from this LP or singles culled from it, making it the most represented here. Give 'Em Enough Rope gets five songs represented and the remaining two tracks – "Capitol Radio One" and "Groovy Times" were originally compiled on Black Market Clash and Super Black Market Clash, respectively.

Growing up, I'd never heard anything from disc one of Essential. It was songs from disc two that got played on the radio stations I listed to in Northern New York. In Potsdam, New York's college radio community, it seemed to be the same way. One of the more frustrating things I faced as music director was getting newbies to break out of their top 40 induced torpor, which happened more often than not. Regardless, and speaking of top 40, the first song I'd ever heard by The Clash came because I was watching VH1's A to Z music video marathon. They had given lip service to the group by playing "Rock The Casbah."

"London Calling," which opens disc two, has been a Pittsburgh club favourite for as long as I can remember. In fact, I can't remember another Clash song being played at a club in the city for as long as I've lived here. There have been times when I thought "Straight To Hell" was being started up only to discover that I was actually hearing M.I.A.'s Clash-sampling "Paper Planes." I found that quite annoying, actually. Sampling, when done right, doesn't fool the listener into thinking they are about to hear the original song.

The London Calling LP, originally released as a two-record set in 1979, gets seven tracks on Essential. 1980's triple LP Sandinista! gets five songs on the set. The Clash's biggest seller, the 1982 LP Combat Rock gets four songs. The compilation ends with only one song from the 1985 epilogue, Cut The Crap:a ride into the sunset entitled "This Is England."

I have to admit that I possess a bit of a morbid fascination with hearing Cut The Crap at least once. I've heard time and time again that it is a terrible album. It probably is. The group was falling apart at the time and Mick Jones, their primary songwriter had been sacked by Joe Strummer. I imagine that it sounds like decay. Hell, "This Is England" sounds like a studio baby more than anything a cohesive band would come up with – good track, well-produced, but probably should have been credited to any other musicians than The Clash.

Would it have been so far-fetched to think of "This Is England" truly being a Clash song though? One of the reasons Strummer sacked Jones was over musical differences, specifically Jones' desire to integrate the dreaded keyboard into The Clash's music. Yes, the keyboard, tool of wussy new wave musicians like Depeche Mode and New Order and Public Image Ltd. The keyboard would have surely destroyed everything The Clash stood for!

Sarcasm aside, I suspect that excuses were simply being made for what was likely an inevitable break up and the keyboard provided a convenient, if weak, scapegoat. Regardless, Mick Jones went on to form Big Audio Dynamite, who released their debut LP the same year as The Clash released their final LP.

So, I've learned something new today. Did you know that "This Is Radio Clash" and "Radio Clash" are technically two different songs? Yep. Somebody put the dirt on Wikipedia:

The B-side recording titled "Radio Clash" was accidentally released on the US version of this album with the incorrect A-side title of "This Is Radio Clash", much like it had been on Super Black Market Clash. Both tracks have the same length and the only notable difference is in the two mixes and the lyrics. (They also feature an un-credited performance by Gary Barnacle on Electric Saxophone). The similarities of the titles and the recordings has led to quite a bit of confusion not only by fans but by record companies as well. The two songs can be identified by the opening lyrics. "This Is Radio Clash" begins with "This is radio clash on pirate satellite, Orbiting your living room, cashing in the bill of rights" and "Radio Clash" begins with "This is radio clash resuming of transmission, beaming from the mountain tops using aural ammunition." Apart from these two compilations, every other compilation (including the European version of "The Essential Clash") where "This Is Radio Clash" is listed on the sleeve includes the original song rather than its similarly titled B-side.

Since I have the US version of Essential, I'm hearing "Radio Clash" mislabelled as "This Is Radio Clash." I can't correct the track listing on the liners of the disc, but you can bet that I've fixed the tag on my MP3 copy of the song.

The Essential Clash was released in the United States on March 11th, 2003. Joe Strummer had died in December of the previous year, an event which is mentioned in the liner notes of the compilation. Between 1985 and his 2002 death, he'd remained active in music as well as adding some film work to his resume. Mick Jones went on to form Big Audio Dynamite, which has had a rotating group of members (as well as variations on the name of the group) since their inception. He remains active in music, albeit not always with Big Audio Dynamite. Bassist Paul Simonon worked with Damon Albarn (along with Mick Jones) for Gorillaz in 2010 and in 2007 for The Good, The Bad & The Queen. However, he has spent most of his post-Clash career painting. Drummer Topper Headon, long battling drug addiction during his time with The Clash continued to do so afterwards. However, he remained active in music and continues to play, having had and recovered from surgery for hyperkyphosis (a forward curvature of the spine) in 2008.

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Creatures, Clan of Xymox's 8th overall album (and first for Metropolis) opens with "Jasmine and Rose," arguably one of the best songs Ronny Moorings ever penned. Yes, it sounds like a long lost track by The Sisters of Mercy (and yes, Andrew Eldritch can suck my left one and fuck a duck while stewing in his impotent rage over my Goth music comparisons), but that's really to be expected if you've been paying attention up to this point.

It was "Jasmine and Rose" that prompted me to go to one of the local record stores in Potsdam, New York way back in 2000 and special order the disc. The place had recently installed a spiffy self-service system for special order CDs in the form of a massive computer kiosk. I walked over, typed in "Clan of Xymox" into the artist field and the results came back with a selection of every release by the Wu-Tang Clan. With the failure of new technology, the person behind the counter put in an order for the proper disc and I got my CD within a week.

So, what happened between 1985 and 1999 with the group? Well, when they started they were a trio: the aforementioned Ronny Moorings along with Anke Wolbert and Pieter Nooten. Fourteen years later, Moorings was the only remaining original member. The band had also split from 4AD after their second album, going through four different labels before getting signed with Metropolis for Creatures. They remain on the label to this day. Oh, yes – and between 1989 and 1994 the group just went by the name Xymox. I think that if I ever get the rest of the group's discography, everything is getting filed under C, much as I'd love to expand section X of my music collection. It's easier that way.

Speaking of name confusion, there is actually a misprint on the liners of my copy of this CD. On each edge of the inlay card, it reads as follows:


I hope somebody at the label got fired for that one. I also wonder if it ever got corrected. I mean, somebody else should have noticed this in the past fifteen years, right?

So, what does this one sound like? Well, it sounds like a Clan of Xymox album. Basically, if you've heard one, you've more or less heard them all. I don't say this to be insulting, but it's the truth: the crossover appeal for this group is, at best, limited. We are living in the dark, absinthe-drenched, clove-scented batcaves of the eternal 1980s.

Subjectively, I find myself enjoying Creatures more than the self-titled debut. The sounds and song writing, while still derivative, just seems stronger overall. It's still best taken as an over mood piece, but the high points are coming more often. Like Clan of Xymox started strong with "A Day," Creatures also tears up the boot-stomped dance floor with "Jasmine and Rose." After a couple of weaker songs (but not much can stand up to that opener), "Undermined" starts playing, slowly burning it's way through six minutes of wailing angst vocals and searing razor blade guitars. I am being strapped to the rack and stretched and I fucking love the misery I am enduring!

Bring on the heavily reverbed piano for "Consolation" and it's slow-dance time. A bit of humming and a steady 8/8 drumbeat and I feel that it's time to light a scented candle and lay in bed with my lover, weeping about how our relationship is well and truly doomed to fail in the most miserable and tragic way possible.

Can you tell yet that I wasn't particularly happy in my 20s? Truth be told, I'm not particularly happy in my 30s either. Nor was I particularly happy as a teenager, but at that point I'd yet to discover an appropriate soundtrack to fit my moods.

In some ways, Creatures was released at a good time for Clan of Xymox. For a time in the early 1990s, Nirvana and a million plaid-clad imitators had effectively destroyed everything about the music of the 1980s, alternative and otherwise. Much like punk had killed prog rock in the late 1970s, the high theatre and pretentiousness of goth music couldn't withstand the raw and earthy assault of grunge in the early 1990s.

Even so, goth bands started crawling back out of the shadows in the mid to late 1990s. They were never hugely successful – at least not in the United States – but there was certainly an influence at work. I remember heated (and ultimately stupid) arguments over whether or not Marilyn Manson was a goth musician. I still say no, despite much of his shtick being stolen from Christian Death. If black eyeliner makes one a goth musician, then self-abuse onstage makes one Iggy Pop as well. Marilyn Manson is no Iggy Pop.

Legitimately though, there was London After Midnight, Switchblade Symphony, Rosetta Stone, and so on...and then, Clan of Xymox, surviving the 1980s to continue recording and releasing albums throughout the 1990s. In fact, they continued to release albums through the first decade of the new millennium. There is an indication that the body is showing signs of decay though: the most recent Clan of Xymox album, 2012's Kindred Spirits is a collection of covers. Such a move usually gets the attention of the vultures and obituary writers begin checking to see that the ink in their typewriter ribbons hasn't dried.

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In this, Off the Rack's 100th entry, we move from a band who sounded like they should have been signed to 4AD in the 1980s to a band who actually was signed to 4AD in the 1980s. No, we've yet to get to the Cocteau Twins, but instead their labelmates Clan of Xymox (sometimes just Xymox).

Activate the WABAC machine: the year is 1985. Two years prior, Xymox had independently released a teaser EP entitled Subsequent Pleasures. 500 copies of the record were pressed, and apparently the band, dissatisfied with the result, destroyed as many as they could get their hands on not long afterwards. Of the five songs on the EP, "Moscovite Musquito" (retitled "Muscoviet Musquito") made it onto Clan of Xymox's 1985 self-titled debut (but only the compact disc). A decade later, the original EP would see a number of CD reissues with various additional tracks tacked on.

I don't remember when exactly I bought this disc, but I know I got it used online. My copy is actually a promo disc (you can tell because the UPC code has a hole punched in it – a typical label method of marking discs that aren't for retail). Despite that, it still has all of the liner notes, such as they are. Included in the two page booklet is a track listing and production and performance credits, all in a damn-near illegible font. Thankfully, the track listing is printed on the disc itself in a much more readable all-lowercase Times New Roman.

I see Clan of Xymox as a time capsule. What else came out in 1985? The list includes Low-Life by New Order, The Head on the Door by The Cure and First and Last and Always by The Sisters of Mercy. Siouxsie & the Banshees wouldn't release Tinderbox until 1986 (Hyaena came out in 1984) and the first full-length by Fields of the Nephilim wouldn't arrive for another year either. This self-titled debut by Clan of Xymox sounds like all of these albums!

So, the group can't be called original, but they did what any good pop band does: appropriate the best and most accessible of what has already been done by the innovative and serve it up for consumption by a mass audience. Of course, in this context, it's a bit odd to be using the term "mass audience," because Clan of Xymox is firmly planted in their niche. This is a Goth club record, no cutting it and serving it any other way.

Honestly, I have mixed feelings about it. This is not a disc I can listen to all the way through. When the band fuses their influences with their pop sensibilities as on "A Day," "Cry in the Wind" and "Stranger," the results are nothing short of brilliant, even when you can pick apart the songs and identify what came from where. "7th Time" rightly got John Peel's personal seal of approval. Other tracks – "Stumble and Fall" and "Equal Ways" – sound like ABC if the duo had been abducted and forced, Clockwork Orange-style, to watch films of kittens being drowned.

The original vinyl LP had eight songs on it, with each side starting very strongly ("A Day" opens side A, "Stranger" opens side B). "No Human Can Drown" is a lovely bit of moodiness which originally closed the LP…and as far as I'm concerned, should have been about two minutes longer instead of fading out after only three and a half. However, the CD I have tacks three tracks onto the end: "Moscoviet Musquito" and two remixes. "Stranger" loses two minutes in remix form while "A Day" gains nearly three. The former is good for radio programmers, the latter good for club DJs needing a piss break. Neither remix was all that necessary of an addition.

My first introduction to Clan of Xymox was actually through a compilation I picked up on a whim: Gothic Club Classics, Vol. 1. "Louise," originally from the band's 1986 set Medusa was included on that compilation. While that song didn't inspire me to go out and grab the group's entire discography (or even the album it originally came from), it was enough that when Clan of Xymox released a live album in 2000 (simply entitled Live), I slotted it into WAIH's new music rotation.

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Released four years after Time and the Maiden, but only two years after Claire Voyant was signed to Metropolis Records, Love Is Blind is the group's third studio album. The official release date was September 24th, 2002 and judging by Metropolis' failure to send a copy to WAIH, the label didn't seem to have any interest in promoting it like they did the remix disc Time Again. CMJ Weekly seemed to have lost interest in the group as well, as there was no mention of a new album in their hallowed and influential pages.

I found out from my then long-distance girlfriend that Claire Voyant had released a new album and ended up having to special order it from the local CD store. It's a shame that the label didn't push this harder – if at all, but then again Metropolis tends more towards grinding beats than gossamer beauty. For people like me who mope about that the Cocteau Twins are no longer releasing records, this is manna from heaven.

The album opens with "Pieces," which is probably the most dancefloor-friendly thing Claire Voyant ever recorded before the remixers got their hands on any of their songs. "Twenty-Four Years" brings them back to the mid-tempo grandeur of their previous albums and we stay there through "Mirror," "Abyss" and "Silence" (not a cover of the Delerium/Sarah McLachlan collaboration).

If we are to divide the ten songs of Love Is Blind like a record, "Silence" would close the first half with a bit of high drama. Victoria Lloyd's voice reaches into the heavens while strings and backing "ahhs" pulse and push through the majority of the song. It is what vinyl aficionados would refer to as a "side-turner."

We sway back into more melancholy moods with the second half opener, "He Is Here," but then the band takes an unexpected turn with "Close To Me" (not a cover of The Cure). It's a somewhat unusual song for Claire Voyant, their usual Cocteau Twins vibe sounding like it was invaded by Garbage and then Santigold broke into the studio to mash portions of "L.E.S. Artistes" in there. My DJ brain says that this one would be good to put on at the club when people have gotten a drink or two in and a few early pioneers are starting to wander towards the dance floor.

The title cut, "Love Is Blind," closes the set in an understated manner. Lloyd is almost whispering through most of the song. It sounds like she is writing a letter to a lover who may be there in person, but who emotionally may as well be lost in space. Who hasn't been there?

To date, Claire Voyant has released one more album: 2009's Lustre. Seven years is a long gap between albums and I should probably grab this one before it goes out of print. The band seems to have been on hiatus since 2010, with only sparse Twitter and Facebook posts to indicate any signs of life.

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Sometime in the Spring of 2001, I was sitting in the office at WAIH, thumbing through CMJ Weekly when I spotted a review for Claire Voyant's Time and the Maiden. The Cocteau Twins and 4AD Records in general were name-dropped and I gave the Metropolis Records college radio promotions department a call to ask for a copy to be sent.

As it turned out, Time and the Maiden was actually a reissue, having originally been released on the band's own Nocturne Records in 1998. The Metropolis version tacks on two remixes and a previously unreleased song. It was also not the record they were promoting at the time, that actually being the remix CD Time Again. Regardless, the label sent both Time and the Maiden and Time Again to WAIH with the expectation that the latter disc would be charted. Diligent as a music director, Time Again was put on the RPM playlist and did get a good amount of play. Personally though, I've never been terribly fond of most remixes, so an album full of them didn't do much for me. But Time and the Maiden damn near immediately because one of my favourite albums.

The group consists of three members: Benjamin Fargen (guitars), Chris Ross (keyboards, programming) and lead vocalist Victoria Lloyd. It's pretty simple really, if you like the Cocteau Twins, Lush or The Sundays, you should like this group. Here we find ourselves comfortably located in the land of lush, beautiful, haunting dreampop. When I first purchased this CD, I remember many nights where I'd put it on repeat play in my CD player and just let it wash over me.

When I had an RPM playlist slot to fill during my radio show, I'd give something off of Time Again a spin, but otherwise, I was playing songs from Time and the Maiden. "Iolite," in particular, got heavily played on my show.

In all honesty, I think the remixes on Time Again destroyed most of these songs. The staff at must be smoking some crazy crack to think Time Again warrants 4½ stars while Time and the Maiden only gets 3 stars. A grave injustice, I say!

Time and the Maiden is Claire Voyant's second album. The group's self-titled debut was released in 1995 on Nocturne, reissued in 1998 on Hyperium and reissued once more in 2000 on Accession. Each reissue changed the cover art – collect all three? Good luck if you can get your hands on one copy though. I've never been able to get my hands on a copy of the disc and it currently seems to be out of print (again). is offering the album as a digital download, which to me is like only owning half an album. I refuse to purchase MP3s, which as far as I am concerned are what you get when you rip a CD to your computer, not something that one should acquire divorced from the physical media they are derived from. Frustratingly, as of this writing, if you want that physical CD, expect to pay at least $26.39 or as much as $55.99 to get a used copy. While I want a copy of the album, that is just not in my price range. A CD should never cost more than $10 (and a used CD should cost less than that).

As originally produced, "Blinking Tears" closed the album. However, my copy is the Metropolis reissue. As such, there are three additional tracks to listen to. I like having "Instinct," as it would otherwise be unavailable but I question the need for remixes. Unlike most of the grafted beats which plagued Time Again, these two mixes don't bother me as much. The "low mix" of "Love The Giver" makes Claire Voyant sound like Switchblade Symphony, though between Victoria Lloyd and Tina Root, there should be no question as to whom is the better singer. Meanwhile, the "bitter mix" of "Bittersweet" gives the original song a similar understated treatment.

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Released in 2003, seven years after Magician Among The Spirits, Forget Yourself is the last album by The Church currently residing in my music collection. Obviously I have some major gaps in my collection when it comes to The Church's studio output. Forget Yourself is the band's thirteenth studio album, and there are three LPs between it and Magician. Since then, the band released seven more albums, for a grand total of 20 studio records overall – a daunting prospect for anyone new to the group trying to penetrate their catalogue.

I don't remember exactly when or where I got this album. It wasn't long after I'd moved to Pittsburgh and I think I was at some big box store where I saw the disc sitting on the shelf. Every other detail is blurry, but I do recall thinking, " CD by The Church. I've already got Starfish and Gold Afternoon Fix...guess I'll check this one out." That's the last time I can recall purchasing a CD as an impulse buy. It was probably the last time I bought a CD at any sort of chain store too.

I have no particular fond recollections of chain store CD purchases. Even then I knew I was being ripped off. As far as I'm concerned, a CD should never cost more than $10. If some of the prices I've seen at merch tables lately are any indication, I'm a musician with a minority opinion in that regard. Perhaps I'm a sucker who should just be charging more for merch when I play a show.

Forget Yourself took three months to record, and is an album of few overdubs. By the time of its release, The Church had become accustomed to "jamming out" new releases for nearly a decade. The result is something a little less polished, a little more immediate, a little more raw. "Song In Space" was the single from this one, but album opener "Sealine" could have easily taken its place. The two songs go well together – and, indeed, they do as track one and two.

It has been a while since I've given this a listen and playing it again for the first time, "Lay Low" sticks out from the rest of the tracks. The song is like a harder rocking "Terra Nova Cain" without alien abduction subplot. It fits surprisingly well with the more downbeat, shimmery "Maya."

In case you've ever been curious, there are times when I'll stop writing these pieces and just listen to the record as it plays for a while before I resume typing. I generally try to write whatever I'm going to write within the duration of the album it relates to. On occasion (The Jim Carroll Band's Catholic Boy, for example), I've played an album through more than once as I write about it. At 63 minutes, Forget Yourself is pretty generous with the listening/writing time.

That said, I've made it up to "Don't You Fall" (track 10). I like the song, but I can't shake the feeling that I've heard it somewhere else before. Obviously I heard it when I've listened to the album in the past, but I feel like I heard it in a place divorced from that listening experience. The question is...where? It's actually irritating me a bit that I can't remember where else I've heard the song. Was it a TV show? Was it playing at some restaurant or coffee shop that I visited? Did I hear it in the car on a long trip skipping around on the left side of the FM dial? I bet I'll remember five minutes after I close this entry – or perhaps never at all.

In any case, someone looking for The Church to sound as close to "Under The Milky Way" as they will ever come again will find it in "Don't You Fall."

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At the center of the cover art is a framed photo negative of Harry Houdini. The title is a reference to Houdini's experiences with the supernatural. The year was 1996 and Magician Among The Spirits was the first album The Church recorded and released after their contract with Arista was fulfilled (and not renewed). If things had gone bad when Gold Afternoon Fix was being recorded and released, apparently things were worse with Magician - to the point where, apparently, some members of the band disown the release.

Although not to the point that it didn't get the reissue treatment. Retitled Magician Among The Spirits And Some (or Plus Some, depending on where you lived), the reissue removes The Church's cover of Cockney Rebel's "Ritz" and tacks on four originals. My copy of Magician is the original issue, so I haven't heard the four songs that replaced "Ritz," but judging by the intensity of their performance of the song, I really think they should have kept it in the sequence.

This reminds me that I should probably get my hands on a copy of The Psychomodo, the 1974 LP by Cockney Rebel from which "Ritz" originates (it closed side A of the record). Further piquing my interest in the disc is my discovery that, apparently, this was one of two LPs Alan Parsons produced after Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.

Magician opens, appropriately enough, with a song entitled "Welcome." I find the song hypnotically seductive, something I'd expect to hear late at night on the left of the dial. It's lyrically obtuse, with a list of names – famous and obscure, real and imagined – and a refrain of "we welcome you." Is this some sort of vision of the afterlife? Following track, "Comedown," is a more conventional pop song – quite nice, actually, even if it isn't quite as memorable.

"Ladyboy," which closes the first half of the record flows nicely into "It Could Be Anyone," opening the second. Overall – and especially with these two songs - Magician sounds like the ideas used on "Pharoah" and "Grind" (from Gold Afternoon Fix) were expanded upon and stretched across an entire album. A good direction, I'd say from my personal aesthetic perspective. Not quite ideal though, if a band were asking me how to get a hit on the radio. Stupid commercial hit radio.

Listening through "It Could Be Anyone," I am reminded of Peter Murphy's 2002 album Dust. It's got that same expansive Middle-Eastern vibe. Also, much like that album, it's better listened to all the way through as an atmospheric piece, rather than a collection of potential singles. I suspect at this point, The Church (who had been reduced to two members) were well aware that the days of Starfish were long gone.

If what is written on Wikipedia is true, then the state of The Church at the time of Magician rivalled if not exceeded the frustrations and challenges the group faced during Gold Afternoon Fix. From the free online encyclopedia:

The album was released on the band's own Deep Karma label as Magician Among the Spirits (inspired by the 15-minute, epic title track). Due to financial constraints, the band had to arrange outside distribution for markets in North America and Europe. This limitation almost doomed the album from the beginning, but worse events were to come. Within a short time, the U.S. distributor went bankrupt, leaving the band stripped of its earnings from North American sales. Although exact figures remain unknown due to disputes, up to $250,000 worth of merchandise (some 25,000 discs) was lost. For a band already on shaky foundations, this was nearly the death knell. Comments by Kilbey in May of that year summed up the situation: "There's no immediate future for The Church.....Our management, the whole thing is broken down.....We don't really have a label. We're owed lots and lots of money and we're broke. We're trying to pursue lawyers to get our money back. Marty and I aren't having any communication. There's no one really managing us so.....that could have been the last record."

So...I'm now listening to the title cut. At 14 minutes and 8 seconds, I think it is the longest studio track The Church has ever recorded. The song was originally written as a loose jam session and that feeling was not lost in putting it to tape. I almost feel like I should be taking some mind-altering substance other than coffee as I listen to this. I also wonder why the band didn't just end the album here. If the band wanted the disc to run an even 66 minutes, they could have still accomplished that by placing "After Image" as the second to last track. Then again, that title kind of demands that it end an LP. It's a nice (comparatively) short piano-driven instrumental which doesn't deserve to be excluded.

Incidentally, I've added "Magician Among The Spirits" to my Ten Minutes or More "mix tape" on 8tracks.

While at the time many thought that it may have been the end of the road for the band, The Church continued to release albums into the new millennium. Of those, I own only one.

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Affixed to the front of the jewel case to my copy of Gold Afternoon Fix is a sticker. Upon it is printed the following: "Strawberry Fields $7.79." Strawberry Fields was a music store and coffee house that existed at the corner of Market and Main Street in Potsdam, New York from 1998 until they moved in 2010. A Google search brings up listings for the place at its "new" address, but otherwise no indication that they are actually still open. In any case, I grabbed my copy of the disc from the store's "used bin" sometime in 2004 (I can't remember exactly when). I do know that I'd travelled up to Northern New York for my friends' wedding, a marriage which, upon reflection, lasted as long as The Church's commercial success after Starfish.

Released February 22nd, 1990, Gold Afternoon Fix was The Church's second album for Arista Records and sixth LP overall. Apparently it had a troubled birth – mostly due to executive meddling. It also might not have helped that the group was suffering from internal friction as well – drummer Richard Ploog was out of the band once the album was recorded. Add to that Marty Wilson-Piper having one of his guitars stolen (a 12-string Rickenbacker) and it's enough to irritate and frustrate any band.

Irritation and frustration can make for great music – but one has to get their stupid record label out of the way for anyone to hear it. Arista vetoed the band's decision to hire John Paul Jones to produce the LP, opting to use Waddy Wachtel again. The production isn't poor by any stretch of the imagination, but I wonder what it would have sounded like if the band had been allowed to pursue their vision.

As it stands, Gold Afternoon Fix is a pretty good album but not one that dug it's hooks into me like Starfish did. "Pharoah" opens the set on a grinding, menacing note that is just incredible. Yes! More like this! I think to myself before being plunged into "Metropolis," the first single from the album. Unfortunately, what is actually a good song makes for a poor follow-up to such a strong opener. At the very least, I'd have it swap places in the sequence with the absolutely stunning post-apocalyptic extra-terrestrial fantasy that is "Terra Nova Cain."

Available only on the compact disc version of the album, "Monday Morning" is a lovely little waltz that flows nicely into second single "Russian Autumn Heart." Third single "You're Still Beautiful" sounds like The Church at their cockiest and most sarcastic. It's an interesting song because it stands out as not sounding like anything else the band has ever done, yet still fitting in somehow.

The next song, "Disappointment" sounds like The Church listened to a bunch of records by The Beatles before recording it. In it I hear echoes of "Because," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and a distant call of "Strawberry Fields Forever." At the same time it also seems like the cousin to The Church's own "Destination." It's a bit of a shame that this song doesn't seem to have one…it meanders over six minutes. It could have been a great closer (for side A or side B), but at the tail end of the second third of the album it doesn't quite work.

By the same token, the next song, "Transient" would have been a really good opener for side B, but as the start of the final third of the album I find the transition just jarring.

Gold Afternoon Fix runs for less than a hour, but it feels much longer. Starfish is a tight ten tracks that one breezes right through – the kind of album where you look up and say, "oh? It's over already?" The album's closer, "Grind" is an appropriate finale to the set (mirroring opener "Pharoah") but it takes a bit of determination to get there.

I wonder if Arista had been more hands-off and just let the band do their thing I'd be listening to a tighter, more cohesive album right now. The band themselves have claimed that the rough demos are better than the studio set, so I'd be curious to get my hands on those to give them a listen.

After this, The Church would release two more LPs for Arista, fulfilling their contract with the label. Priest=Aura and Sometime Anywhere didn't get much in the way of label push though. On the upside, there seemed to be less executive meddling after Gold Afternoon Fix however. The Church returned to an indie label for Magician Among the Spirits.


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Seth Warren

May 2017

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