I’m having a bit of a dilemma.
Generally, I like to listen to a wide variety of music. I don’t stream music; I buy the CD when I decide I want to listen to something.
But only in very few instances have I collected the complete catalog of any artist. I’m more likely to go wide than deep.
The stunning variety of ways that humans have found to combine rhythm, melody, and harmony is at the core of my love for music. Why get fussy about tracking down every single recording by a certain artist when there’s SO MUCH different music out there to listen to?
Some would suggest that if you really love an artist’s music, you should make a goal of acquiring their complete discography. And in a way, that does make sense.
Owning and becoming familiar with everything that an artist recorded and released is certainly a way to fully appreciate that artist.
But a part of me bristles at this.
What if the band has permanently broken up, or if the artist has passed on?
I don’t think I’d like the feeling of knowing that there was simply no more new music to be heard by my favorite act.
That’s been my informal philosophy for quite some time, but now I’m considering making an exception. And in the interest of not being coy about this, I’ll cut to the chase:
There’s only one band whose music is compelling enough – extraordinary, even – and whose catalog is deep enough (without being too deep; I’m leaving John Zorn out of this conversation) to warrant this consideration.
That band is Cocteau Twins.
I’ve been in love with their music for a long time.
It was the late 80’s when, intrigued by the band’s cryptic ephemera, I picked up their 1988 album Blue Bell Knoll from my local mall record store. I hadn’t heard anything of theirs previously, so the first song on the album – which is also the title track – marked the first time I had listened to any Cocteau Twins.
I was immediately spellbound.
The foreboding keyboard, the ethereal vocal, the way the song swells and erupts into a mind-bending guitar freak-out at the end… I’d never heard anything like it before. Even today, I’m not convinced that anyone had ever made music like this before the Cocteaus did it.
The rest of the songs on that album didn’t come anywhere near that level of intensity. At first that was a bit disappointing, but in retrospect it was a fortunate thing. I don’t think my physiology could have withstood a whole album’s worth of such brain-melters.
More broadly, to maintain interest long-term, a musical act must be able to sing more than one song. One-trick ponies are not compelling.
After listening to that first song, I knew that they could convincingly pull off a ground-shifting conjuration of a song.
But could they also deliver a swooningly beautiful number that sounded both ecstatic and angelic?
Like, something jaw-droppingly gorgeous and entirely unprecedented?
Turns out they could:
Suitably impressed, I quickly picked up the only other CD of theirs I could find, a compilation of earlier stuff called The Pink Opaque. It was similarly delightful, but also represented something of a dead-end. Back in those PI (pre-Internet) days, answers to the questions I had about the Cocteaus were decidedly NOT at my fingertips. I learned that they were a UK band, and gradually gathered that there was a confusing mix of albums, singles, and EPs involved.
It would have taken some major digging to find out more, so I left it at that.
For several decades.
I never lost my fascination with the music of Cocteau Twins.
But as I’m sure you know already, there’s a whole world of music out there to discover.
Eventually – and at least partially thanks to doing my “Far From The Charts” write-ups for SG’s #1s comment section – I realized that the Cocteau Twins music, which had seemed so exotic and beguiling all those years ago, still delivers the goods. So I decided to fill in some of the gaps in my collection.
I’ve made some progress, most crucially in snagging a 1991 boxset that collected all of their early EPs, a considerable chunk of music that’s not available on the albums.
I’d written it off previously due to the expense – spending $150 or more for it had always seemed a bit too indulgent. But I searched around a bit (thanks, Discogs) and found the discs – (minus the decorative box( – for a double-digit price. It’s the savviest bit of consumerism I’ve pulled out of my sleeve in quite a while.
This creepy-as-hell number from 1985 is the song that convinced me that, yes: I did need the EPs:
But it’s possible that the Law of Unintended Consequences has kicked in.
Now, I find myself waking up in the mornings with Cocteau Twins songs playing in my head. I felt the need to not only have all my collected Cocteaus music in a single playlist, but I wanted the playlist to be arranged in chronological order so that I could analyze it and better understand how their music progressed over time.
I realized that to put the songs in order, I needed a master list – otherwise, keeping up with all the names and dates is not within my mental capacity.
Now, after putting together both the master list and the playlist, I can “test” myself: I put the playlist on shuffle.
As the songs randomly come up, I try to identify which recording the song is from.
In short: I’m beginning to feel obsessed.
It’s been a few years since I last felt like this (go ahead, ask me about John Zorn, I dare you.)
And I’m not sure that I like it.
This morning, I took a closer look and realized that I’m not as close to the goal as I thought. To really get the whole Cocteau Twins shebang, I’d probably need several months to acquire the last three studio albums that I lack…
… plus the collaborative album they did with Harold Budd…
… PLUS several later singles and EPs…
But I don’t know if I want to commit to that. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s worth the time and expense, not to mention the music I won’t be able to check out if I go all-in on the Cocteaus. After all, I’ve only scratched the surface on The Big Moon and Joanna Newsom!
Maybe I’m over-analyzing this? Obviously it’s a question that I have to answer for myself, but I’m curious about you, kind reader:
Have you had similar experiences?
Are there artists that you love so much that you’ve felt compelled to own EVERYTHING they produced?
And if so: how did you handle it?
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