A group whose distinctly ethereal and gossamer sound virtually defined the enigmatic image of the record label 4AD, Cocteau Twins were founded in Grangemouth, Scotland, in 1979. Taking their name from an obscure song from fellow Scots Simple Minds, the Cocteaus were originally formed by guitarist Robin Guthrie and bassist Will Heggie and later rounded out by Guthrie’s girlfriend Elizabeth Fraser, an utterly unique performer whose swooping, operatic vocals relied less on any recognizable language than on the subjective sounds and textures of verbalized emotions.
In 1982, the trio signed to 4AD, the arty British label then best known as the home of the Birthday Party, whose members helped the Cocteaus win a contract. The group debuted with Garlands, which offered an embryonic taste of their rapidly developing, atmospheric sound, crafted around Guthrie’s creative use of distorted guitars, tape loops, and echo boxes and anchored in Heggie’s rhythmic bass as well as an omnipresent Roland 808 drum machine. Shortly after the release of the Peppermint Pig EP, Heggie left the group, and Guthrie and Fraser cut 1983’s Head Over Heels as a duo; nonetheless, the album largely perfected the Cocteaus’ gauzy formula, and established the foundation from which the group would continue to work for the duration of its career.
In late 1983, ex-Drowning Craze bassist Simon Raymonde joined the band to record the EP The Spangle Maker; as time wore on, Raymonde became an increasingly essential component of Cocteau Twins, gradually assuming an active role as a writer, arranger, and producer. With their lineup firmly solidified, they issued The Spangle Maker, followed by the LP Treasure, their most mature and consistent work yet. A burst of creativity followed, as the Twins issued three separate EPs — Aikea-Guinea, Tiny Dynamine, and Echoes in a Shallow Bay — in 1985, trailed a year later by the acoustic Victorialand album, the Love’s Easy Tears EP, and The Moon and the Melodies, a collaborative effort with minimalist composer Harold Budd.
With 1988’s sophisticated Blue Bell Knoll, the trio signed an international contract with Capitol Records, which greatly elevated their commercial visibility. After 1990’s Heaven or Las Vegas, the Cocteaus severed their long-standing relationship with 4AD; notably, the album also found Fraser’s vocals offering the occasional comprehensible turn of phrase, a trend continued on 1993’s Four-Calendar Cafe. In 1995, they explored a pair of differing musical approaches on simultaneously released EPs: while Twinlights offered subtle acoustic sounds, Otherness tackled ambient grooves, remixed by Seefeel’s Mark Clifford. On the other hand, 1996’s Milk & Kisses LP marked a return to the band’s archetypal style. Cocteau Twins quietly disbanded while working on an uncompleted follow-up. Posthumous releases followed, such as 1999’s BBC Sessions, 2000’s Stars and Topsoil, and 2005’s Lullabies to Violaine.