Review Summary: A wonderful, frozen landscape of sound.
Despite having earned themselves the label of “dream pop”, I can’t help but feel something a little more lucid when listening to Cocteau Twins’ music. Victorialand, the group’s fourth studio album, conveys this sensation in an interesting way, sounding something like the soundtrack to the earth’s ice caps.
Victorialand most likely directs the listener to these blissful lands of ice due to its name and tracklist being rooted there; with Victoria Land itself being a region in the Antarctic, while the song titles are lifted from passages detailing the Arctic and the Antarctic from David Attenborough's The Living Planet. Because of this, the album’s sensation of an Arctic tour was obviously either intentional on the part of the band or similarly felt by the band upon listening back.
The album’s sound is a further exploration of the ethereal soundscapes they had created masterfully with Treasure, but taken in a much more ambient direction. Due to the absence of Simon Raymonde, the remaining duo of Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie opted for an almost entirely percussion-less album. The opener “Lazy Calm
” is a pretty to the point introduction, as what you’ll find there is essentially what’s expanded on for the rest of the album. The guitars are incredibly subtle and spacy, much like an icy mist. Throughout the song, there’s a phaser effect that spirals through the channels, adding incredible colour to the already lush piece. Liz’s vocals are as angelic as usual; adding the wildlife to the beautiful, but otherwise barren tundra, especially effective with this beautiful trilled, descending vocal melody which she sings throughout the song.
This style of snowy, crystal clear melodies and Liz’s gorgeous voice as the tour guide is pretty much the modus operandi for the entire album. However, there are varying degrees of energy with which these scenes are captured. Some songs are more bright and invigorating, while others are more cold and enveloping. “Throughout the Dark Months of April and May
” is as brooding as the title suggests, with melancholic acoustic guitar and light, layered, almost operatic vocals making up its entire composition. The icy winds and driving warmth is melted together with “Oomingmak
”, one of the album’s briefer features and one of it’s most satisfying. “Little Spacy
” is oddly enough one of the least spacious tracks on the album, opting to be more direct in its approach to melody. The succeeding track, “Feet-Like Fins
”, begins with a heavily reverb coated guitar reminiscent of an iceberg bobbing on the water before surprising the listener by bringing in a rare percussive passage, though it is sparse and reserved.
Victorialand is a brief, yet impressive display of Cocteau Twins’ mastery of aural painting, drawing together elegant imagery of frozen landscapes with a strikingly simple but effect palette of sonic colours. The album stands out in their discography which is already scattered with stunning gems. Victorialand saves itself from what could have been monotony by keeping its running time brief and managing to sustain a decent variety of sound that stops the whole album bleeding together. Definitely an album to be listened to next to the fireplace with a blanket handy.