Victorialand - 1986

Victorialand Lazy Calm
Fluffy Tufts
Throughout The Dark Months Of April And May
Whales Tails
Little Spacey
Feet-Like Fins
How To Bring A Blush To The Snow
The Thinner The Air

If the Cocteau Twins had not already most fans wondering most of the time what their next release would sound like, then certainly Victorialand would have done so. After previous EP's suggested louder, heavily produced and technically complex to be the keywords of the immediate future the Twins managed to take everybody by complete surprise by coming up with this melodious and gentle album. Although the CD sleeve lists 'Cocteau Twins' as the artist reading the small print reveals the songs were recorded by just Robin and Liz - Simon Raymonde was not involved in the project.

Serenity, purity, those are the words that may best describe the songs in this case. Not a single distorted guitar, not a single note of agression is encountered in any of the nine songs. A landscape of quietness, silence, and snowflakes gently falling down, that is possibly how the atmosphere may be experienced. Victorialand itself is, after all, a part of the Antarctic. And although the vocals on this album are clearly just syllables rather than coherent lyrics the song titles suggest similar musical interpretations. How To Bring A Blush To The Snow for instance. Whales Tails also suggests oceans as does Feet-Like Fins, whereas Oomingmak is an Eskimo word.

The songs are mostly fairly short, with the first track, Lazy Calm, as the only exception. Liz's vocals are crystal clear, and even more melancholic than usual. Acoustic guitars are used throughout, and in view of Simon's absence it is hardly surprising we find almost no bass, but perhaps the most striking feature is the absence of almost any percussion.

Victorialand is an exceptional album of beauty and peace, an 'unplugged' effort before such a thing became commonplace. Yet despite the hugely different styles and instrumentation from their usual practice Robin and Liz still manage to sound like the Cocteau Twins. For a band notable for its distorted guitars and heavy drums that in itself is no mean achievement.

Lazy Calm

Easily the longest track from Victorialand Lazy Calm is aptly named. Peaceful and serene the song provides a fitting introduction to the rest of the album, although there are also a few hints some livelier moments are to be expected.

The first few chords fill no less than a full three minutes. After a while a saxophone - played by Richard Thomas from Dif Juz - adds its melancholic contribution to the opening parts. The song remains instrumental throughout the first half while the pace is definitely no faster than that of a quiet stroll in the twilight.

When the accelaration does eventually happen it comes almost by surprise. Quicker rhythms and gentle vocals change the mood of the song into a much more optimistic affair. The chorus, although only repeated once, can almost be called catchy. A very simple but steady bass - fairly unusual on this album - results in an emphasized rhythm. The mood is optimistic and cheerful rather than melancholic.

After all that the song briefly returns to quiet mode once more. The saxophone makes another guest appearance and provides the final fading notes.

It is pretty tempting to think of the song as representing the entire album, symbolizing overall serenity with occasional bursts of activity. One could also see it as sketching a typical polar day, painting a lengthy darkness with a brief spell of daylight. Or one could just see it as a nice song, which may well be the most sensible approach.

Fluffy Tufts

The song bursts into life with a quick succession of lively chords, but swiftly settles down into a gently flowing rhythm. Liz puts forward a few louder lines, but in general the vocals stay equally serene as well. As so many on this album the song paints a musical landscape of tranquility and manages to do so rather well. The main melody is repeated again and again, which makes the song appear longer than it actually is and creates a soothing feeling of undisturbable peace.

Towards the end the vocals and the melody change slightly, almost as if to summarize a story just completed. Eventually a final repetition is played, a final note is struck and as it fades away one feels it might well symbolize a painter's signature under a still life.

Throughout The Dark Months Of April And May

On the southern hemisphere midwinter is in July, so in the Antarctic region there is precious little sunlight during April and May. But although the title may refer to a desolate and gloomy environment the song itself could hardly be more enchanting.

Crystal clear vocals against a background of perfectly arranged acoustic guitars - effectively that describes most of this track. Everything is about beauty in this song. A soothing guitar rhythm produces a wonderful background, but the main star is Liz as she comes up with some of the most beautiful vocals she has ever done, and in her case that quite means something. The lyrics, more than on any other track on this album, sound as if they have meaning, as if we should be able to understand them if only we knew the code or the language, but so far nobody has been able to decipher them. And perhaps this is just as well, for real beauty should be appreciated rather then understood.

Throughout The Dark Months Of April And May is an absolutely gorgeous song, brilliant in its simplicity. It is one of the highlights of the album, and possibly even of the Cocteau's entire career.

Whales Tails

Whales Tails is a very clever track, especially as far as its arrangement is concerned. There is some subtle play of echo going on here, which very strongly suggests the sound is rebounding from far away. The overall illusion is that of a large space and open air, which very much fits in with the song title.

From a musical point of view Whales Tails is a typical track from Victorialand. Many different acoustic guitars provide a rich background as Liz's light voice dances from one line to another. Her superb vocals appear incredibly effortless on this track, adding to the relaxed atmosphere.

Towards the end we find her vocals mixed into a large choir. The illusion of vast open areas in this grand finale is complete. The band still provides us with a nice little change of key though to finish the song neatly.


'Oomingmak', or musk ox
Right in the middle of the album Oomingmak is easily the most dynamic song on the album. Its quick rhythms, optimistic sounds and happy mood all work wonderfully well to create a beautiful song. And although Oomingmak would appear to be just another incomprehensible Cocteau song title it is in fact the Inupiaq (Eskimo) word for the arctic Musk Ox.

The acoustic guitar is really what this track is about. At an incredible pace it delivers the fantastic melody, with just occasional lower background notes by a second guitar. Liz sounds very convincing again as she effortlessly manages to stay with the pace. Inbetween she reaches into her higher registers for a somewhat quieter chorus. Somewhat later we are treated to vocal overdub, introducing some extra complexity. Immediately after that though the song comes to an unexpected finish.

Apart from being a great song Oomingmak is also the badly needed lighter touch amidst the many quiet and melancholic songs from Victorialand. To get the balance right the Twins really needed to find one or two more upbeat songs, which to their credit they did.

An instrumental version was later released as a bonus track on the last CD in The Box Set.

Little Spacey

With its solemn three time rhythm and its gentle harmonies Little Spacey is one of the more typical songs of this album. The quiet and rather simple vocal melodies create a soothing atmosphere, although some of the background instruments put in a little bit more activity.

A nice feature is some wind-instrument playing in the background (a bassoon?), but the track otherwise never gets into too many adventures. There is no instrumental break, nor are there any changes in key, pace or volume. The song simply starts out, keeps going and eventually ends without further ado. We're not even treated to the usual vocal overdubs or some other special effect that would have given the song a bit of extra dimension

Little Spacey is still a pleasant song to listen to, but its lack of any conspicuous features makes it an unlikely candidate to top many fans' lists of favourite Cocteau tracks.

Feet-Like Fins

Feet-Like Fins is a wonderful example of how well Robin and Liz were able to create breathtakingly beautiful tracks. This enchanting song has everything that makes Victorialand such an attractive release: serene parts, livelier parts, all of it submerged in delicate acoustics so typical for this album.

A quiet start, with marvellous but isolated guitar chords and dreamy vocals initially make the song sound rather melancholic. With hardly any melody or rhythm the atmosphere is that of a hazy dawn. But then the song suddenly appears to wake up. Robin's guitar comes alive, Liz shakes off her morning drowse and sings with great conviction, and everything gets transformed into a totally different world of pretty rhythms and lively vocals.

In a way the song represents most of the album, which features both quieter and quicker songs. And yet, within the context of the album Feet-Like Fins has one feature that sets it apart from the other eight tracks: percussion. It's almost only cymbals, and not very loud either. But they are constantly fading in and out again, dominating the background and contributing hugely to the magic of this track.

It's yet another wonderful demonstration of Robin's musical awareness, and probably of his experience handling 'electronic' percussion as well. The clever use of cymbals turns this song into a real gem.

The band took a few notes from this song to effectively create a totally different track on the Otherness EP

How To Bring A Blush To The Snow

Most of the nine tracks on Victorialand may be fairly laidback, but How To Bring A Blush To The Snow is one of the exceptions. Instead we are treated to a song of just vocals and guitar complementing each other beautifully at a rather quicker pace.

The first part of the song is quite interesting. It is as though the guitar is trying to find the right rhythm - and succeeding only after starting out the wrong way. In fact it starts out with a 3-3-3-3-3-1 rhythm, deceptively close to a real three-time but inserting the extra count in order to transform seamlessly into a regular four-time shortly thereafter.

The vocals are mixed together wonderfully well. The foreground voice providing the quicker and slightly louder parts with a softer background vocal taking care of the more relaxed bits - but at times the background takes over as the lead vocal. Meanwhile a second guitar line plays several different melodies and nicely fills in the gaps when Liz takes the occasional break.

Despite its cheerful character there is still a melancholic touch to the song. Perhaps it is Liz singing most of the quicker notes at one and the same pitch, perhaps it is something in the guitar or in the melody, but somehow the atmosphere fits in perfectly with the album's general mood of peace and serenity. One can easily picture the song to present an impression of a sunset in a polar landscape. And perhaps that is exactly how to bring A Blush To The Snow.

The Thinner The Air

The Cocteau twins have always been remarkably strong in writing a suitable track to finish off an album. Most of the time a quiet track is performing this duty, and since Victorialand is rather a quiet album in itself one would expect the closing song to be written in similar fashion. But Robin and Liz rather outdid themselves in this case in creating what is surely the most melancholic effort of their entire career.

From the first chord of The Thinner The Air it is somehow clear that the last few minutes of the album have arrived. The constant repetition of a rather sad chord played on an acoustic guitar is foremost in creating an atmosphere of restraint. But all the other instruments are filled equally with grief, and as a result an atmosphere of farewell and sadness is predominant.

There is hardly a melody in the song, or a verse or a chorus. Halfway through Liz simply starts singing, a bit held back at first, but then she appears to allow her emotions to overtake her as she cries out her feelings in an unbelievable episode, where line after line is delivered in both sorrow and beauty.

Her energy soon leaves her and as her sadness takes over again her voice dies away and the song does likewise. In truth, the album could hardly have received a more fitting end.