Elizabeth Fraser, the divine alien of pop, is back

Elizabeth Fraser’s charm, when she sang with dream pop pioneers Cocteau Twins, lay not so much in the songs as in the way she evoked raw emotions like joy, worry, discomfort. To poetry he preferred the ecstasy of a song in which he shaped those feelings with raw and often beautiful vocal sounds, occasionally using a few words in English, a song that intertwined with the fantasies of bandmates Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde ( Did he really sing “silly, silly saliva”?) You didn’t listen to the Cocteau Twins, you could hear them. With her otherworldly style and her way of glowing in the dark, Fraser paved the way for Julee Cruise, the Portisheads, Sarah MacLachlan, and then inspired Jeff Buckley, Miley Cyrus and many more.

Despite his importance, Fraser spent much of the 25 years following the end of the Cocteau Twins out of the spotlight. It is true that she sang in Teardrop by Massive Attack and has made several appearances, but in all this time he has only released two singles to his name. A trifle compared to the production of the Cocteau Twins, which has eight albums and eleven EPs over eight years.

Sun’s Signature, the eponymous debut EP by the duo formed with life partner Damon Reece (drummer of Massive Attack who also played with Echo and the Bunnymen and Spiritualized), represents the first music he has released in thirteen years. His voice still sounds like a spirit wandering in search of a body. He has the same magic of the past, but it has changed and in some ways improved. At 58, Fraser has a higher voice hovering above the almost baroque arrangements that Reece made with musicians who have played with Massive Attack, Spiritualized, Julian Cope. Strange, but true, an important contribution comes from former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. We listen to dulcimer, celeste, vibraphone and other instruments that usually take dust in some shop. They sound magical, evoking the classic 4AD style that the Cocteau Twins pioneered along with Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil.

From the first track, which is called Underwater, Fraser’s voice sounds mysterious as ever and floats above a kind of music box. The music is vaguely reminiscent of the trippy lounge of Felt Mountain Fraser’s imitator Goldfrapp, but her singing is delightfully unpredictable. In Golden Air echoes of the Cocteau Twins are heard, while Fraser’s soprano voice sings gracefully of “indigo, gentle and hesitant movements” over Hackett’s guitar (played backwards). About halfway through, a heavier rhythm makes its way that darkens the song, allowing Fraser to offer a counterpoint to the initial atmosphere, as has always been the case in his best songs.

The second side of the EP (released on vinyl for Record Store Day prior to digital release) opens with Bluedusk, a love song that winds slowly on cinematic harps and a bass clarinet. The climax is the moment Fraser sings “loove, looooove, looove” in the highest register. Apples is a meditation on stillness that slowly builds up over seven minutes and becomes the EP’s best vocal performance when Fraser builds vocal layers to create a choir. The disc closes with Make Lovely the Day, an almost Shakespearean love poem accompanied by Hackett’s flamenco guitar. It is the shortest and most direct piece, the result of Fraser and Reece’s desire to do something different.

Fraser and Reece set up the Sun’s Signature project to prove themselves. In doing so, they explored new territory without losing sight of the singer’s pioneering past. Each song sounds familiar and new at the same time, but then evaluating Fraser’s work is like evaluating the weather, as it changes with the same frequency. The two wrote a good part of Sun’s Signature more than ten years ago for Fraser’s return to the stage of the Meltdown Festival curated by Anohni. On that occasion they presented double the songs contained in the EP. Hopefully, there will be other opportunities to hear Elizabeth Fraser’s alien song.

This article was translated by Rolling Stone US.

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