Previously, I’ve written two articles on the Cocteau Twins, one of my favorite groups. When the group split up, the various members of the band went their own ways, and started working on different projects. The member of the band that has been involved in the most projects, is Robin Guthrie. Since the group spilt up, he has worked with many different artists. One of these that I’ve written about before, was Annie Barker, on her debut album, Mountains and Tumults. However, Guthrie has collaborated with a number of artists, producing a number of albums, which feature many different styles of music. One of these collaborations, was with Harold Budd, the American ambient and avant garde composer. However, this was not the first time that Guthrie had worked with Budd. Their first collaboration was back in 1985 when the three Cocteau Twins collaborated with Budd.  The album was entitled The Moon and The Melodies, and was credited to Harold Budd, Simon Raymonde, Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser. It wasn’t an official Cocteau Twins collaboration with Budd, no, this was very much a side project between the band and the composer.

By 1985, the Cocteau Twins had released four successful albums, Harold Budd however, was a successful composer who specialized in ambient and avant garde music. Born in 1936, in Los Angeles, and raised in the Mojave Desert, his earliest musical inspiration was hearing the wind blow telegraph wires outside his house in the desert. His career as a composer started in 1962, and in 1966 he graduated from the University of Southern California. As his career developed, his music gradually started to become minimalistic. Some of his work became increasingly experimental, such as The Oak and the Golden Dreams based on the Balinese Slendro scale, and a long form gong solo entitled Lirio. However, having decided he had taken avant garde and minimalistic music as far as he could, he decided to take a break from composing in 1970. 

Instead, he started teaching at the California Institute of the Arts. By 1972, he decided to return to composition. Between 1972 and 1975, he composed four works which collectively, were entitled The Pavilion of Dreams. They were a combination of ambient music and populist jazz. In 1976, he resigned his post at the California Institute of the Arts and began working with Brian Eno, who, by now, was working as an ambient composer and musician. 1978 saw Budd’s debut album The Pavilion of Dreams released. After this, Budd went on to develop his own style of ambient music. Since then, he has released numerous albums, collaborating with artists including U2, Jah Wobble John Foxx and of course, Simon Raymonde, Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser in 1986. Even at the age of seventy-five, Harold Budd is working harder than ever, and so far, in 2011 has released one solo album, and collaborated on two other albums, one with Robin Guthrie, the other with John Foxx.

Having briefly told you about Harold Budd’s career, I will now tell you about The Moon and The Melodies. The first track on The Moon and The Melodies, is Sea Swallow Me. A piano plays, it’s slow almost meandering as the track opens, soon, it’s joined by guitars, their brightness blurred slightly, sitting back in the mix. When Liz Fraser sings her vocal is far back in the mix, her vocal veers staring quietly, soaring higher. She sings using her own unique style, the lyrics sung in what sounds like her own personal language. For what is merely a mixture of guitars and Fraser’s vocal, the sound is bold and impressive. As usual, her vocal can transform a track, and her contribution here results in what is, a great track to open the album with.

Memory Gongs opens with a sound echoing in the distant, it’s almost unrecognizable, it’s joined by layers of sound that very gradually, join the mix. The sound is hesitant, ambling, as if finds its way. Here, the focus is experimental, a piano plays, its sound verging on the discordant, unlike what you expect a piano to sound like. Gradually, your ears start to recognize it, guitars play, they too not exactly sounding like a guitar should sound like. Effects are used, they change the sound, a sound which isn’t unpleasant. It takes a while to get used to, but what you’re hearing is some extremely good ambient music. It’s totally unlike the downtempo, or chill-out music we’re now used to. This is much more in keeping with the early pioneers of ambient music, like Brian Eno and Harold Budd himself. As the track ends, I’m saddened having enjoyed this ambient excursion par excellence. 

As Why Do You Love Me? opens, the introduction has much in common with the previous track. Here, the music emerges from the tunnel, like a train from a station. The tempo although much faster than the previous track, isn’t noticeably so at the start. A piano plays, in the distance, meandering unaccompanied, the sound soothing and understated. It’s just Harold Budd playing piano, then subtly, other sounds emerge. They take care never to overpower Budd’s playing. Even when Robert Guthrie plays guitar, he shows reverence, ensuring his playing never overshadows Budd. The deference showed by Guthrie is worthwhile. What emerges is a track that’s subtle, understated and a masterclass in ambient music.

When Eyes Are Mosaics begins, the sound is much more like something the Cocteau Twins would’ve produced, albeit much slower. As the track begins the tempo is slow, space aplenty left within the track. After this the tempo increases slightly, Liz Fraser makes an appearance, her introduction transforming the track. She can add another dimension to the music with her gloriously ethereal voice. Here, her voice is softer than on the opening track See Swallow Me, and behind her Guthrie’s guitars chime, adding to the Cocteau Twins-esque sound. The track is very different to the previous two, Budd’s influence isn’t as pronounced, and the sound isn’t as ambient. Maybe that’s no bad thing, as this track breaks up the flow of the album, and adds some variety. Personally, Eyes Are Mosaics is one of the album’s highlights, made all the better by Liz Fraser and her wonderful voice.

Like the previous track, it only takes a couple of bars to hear the Cocteau Twins influence on She Will Destroy You. The sound reminds me of some of their earlier work. Here, the sound is subdued, verging on understated, Guthrie’s guitars aren’t as powerful as on some of the Cocteau Twins music. His playing is restrained, and so is Liz Fraser’s singing. She sings very much within herself. Not once, does her voice soar. It still has that very special ethereal quality. Accompanying Budd and the three Cocteau Twins on this track, is Richard Thomas on saxophone whose playing is subtle. What they combine to produce, is a lovely, understated track, which demonstrates another side of Fraser, Guthrie and Raymonde.

When The Ghost Has No Home starts, the sound is both distant and extremely quiet. You find yourself straining your ears, trying to hear what is happening. What happens is Budd plays piano, and is occasionally joined by Richard Thomas on saxophone. Both play quietly, and the sound is very much minimalistic, and very Harold Budd. His piano playing is soft and gentle, as if he’s caressing the keys. In the background, Guthrie’s guitar can be heard in the distance. It’s as if he’s deciding whether or not, to make an appearance on the track. In the end, he settles for just playing very gently, so gently, you hardly hear his playing. The track is the longest on the album, just over seven and a half minutes, and during this time, you’re transported on a magical minimalistic musical journey, into Harold Budd’s ambient world.

Boozy and Blunt sees the return of a much more Cocteau Twins sounding track. The only thing missing is Liz Fraser, and as anyone knows, no Liz, no Cocteau Twins. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that this track suffers terribly for her absence. It’s still a good track, where Guthrie’s guitar meanders through this mid-tempo track, while behind him, sounds sweep gently. He, however, takes centrestage. His playing is the mainstay of the track. Everything else is just supporting him. Here he showcases his skills as a guitarist, and in doing so, plays a massive part in two minutes of understated and subtle music.

The Moon and The Melodies, closes with Ooze Out and Away. One How. This track sees the reappearance of Liz Fraser, her fourth appearance on the album. As the track opens, keyboards and guitars play, and Liz almost whispers her vocal. Her voice is almost hidden among the guitars. It just peaks out from the mix. Here, the sound is hesitant, it also has a subtlety. A guitar appears in waves, washing over Liz’s vocal. It’s like waves breaking on the beach. At last, the sound breaks out, Guthrie’s guitar and Liz Fraser’s vocal emerge, as if making a bid for freedom. Before you can revel in their glory, the track is over. I’m left slightly disappointed, I feel almost cheated. This track, to me, is a case of what might have been. By keeping the vocal and guitar subdued, it detracted from their affect, and to me, is a slightly disappointing way to end the album.

The Moon and The Melodies is an album often overlooked by Cocteau Twins fans. That to me, is a shame, because on this album Guthrie, Raymonde and Fraser show another side to their music. Granted you can immediately tell which songs they take the lead on, but when they do, their music is quite different. It’s much more spacious, lacks the intensity of some of their music, and has a much more minimalistic sound. This will be Budd’s influence shining through. Harold Budd’s music on this album, is very different to the Cocteau Twins’ music. He was among the pioneers of ambient music, and his contributions on the album, exposed fans of the Cocteau Twins to a very different style of music. It’s album of two parts, one part Harold Budd and one part Cocteau Twins. They were unlikely collaborators, but the end result was good album, one which featured some great tracks. Budd’s ambient tracks have a gorgeous understated quality, where his belief in minimalism in music shines through. His style of music is apparent in the tracks where Guthrie, Raymonde and Fraser take the lead. Their music is less intense, more spacious and more minimalist. It was a sound that I liked, and one that would influence their later albums. Twenty-five years on, the album still sounds as good as did the day it was released, which is high praise indeed. Standout Tracks: Sea Swallow Me, Memory Gongs, Eyes Are Mosaic and The Ghost Has No Home.


The Moon And The Melodies

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