Retrospective album review: The Moon and the Melodies (1986)


The Moon and the Melodies

Release Date: November 10, 1986

Reviewed by: Bailey Ernst and Nick Marinelli

Note from the authors: Lately we’ve felt the music scene all around the world is enveloped in a cluster of confusion. From lawsuits against streaming services (Spotify, most recently), to the violation of artists’ human rights, you may be looking for something focusing purely on artistry and actual music. Within this following article, we hope to shed some light on a hidden gem.

Unknown Pleasures, The Queen is Dead, Low are albums that exist outside of time, refusing to be dated. In 1986, Harold Budd and the members of Cocteau Twins (Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie) offered their own contribution to timeless albums. Following the near percussion-less Victorialand, released earlier that spring, the Cocteau Twins brought their primary bassist and multi-instrumentalist Simon Raymonde back into the fold, along with recruiting avant-garde pianist Harold Budd. For Robin Guthrie, the primary musical visionary of Cocteau Twins, this was the beginning of a long partnership between himself and Budd.

It’s extremely difficult to describe The Moon and the Melodies, with only a few utterances. We’re going to try and break it down with metaphorical, sensical sentences and imagination.

“Swallow me
Everything is alright
I’ll be the one
Who keeps you up at night”

Imagine television screens from the ‘80s warping into a Sci-fi typhoon, dripping iodine and tie-dye into swirling space, and forcing a soft sort of fear in the eyes of the watchers. The longer you stare, it becomes impossible to look away. “Sea, Swallow Me,” the first track on this album, is just that. Budd’s underwater piano, matched with Guthrie’s chiming guitar welcome you in while Fraser’s vocals extend out to the listener with an irreplaceable warm embrace.

While sounding cozy in an itchy wool blanket, “Memory Gongs,” contains constant musical interruption with an improvisation feel. There is no real rhythm balance to the tangy piano glossing over a synth hum; it simply glides on a wavelength of its own. This tactic is unique to these artists, assembling a melody out of a few instruments and coercing them together in a way that just makes sense. It lacks the piercing, yet satiny voice of Fraser, but atones for it in an anti-gravity, neurotic/psychedelic lullaby ambiance.

This is also true for, “Why Do You Love Me?”, an instrumental piece that sets the following scene:
The west wing corridor of a mahogany-rustic 1920’s mini-mansion peaks a single ray of light grasping at the pilling curtain of a dusty window. Funeral pace sunshine particles slow-dance in the crisp illumination. It’s an elongated telluric siren-song, a tune for lost lovers finding solace in the petrichor shadows. The notes held down throughout the song make it sound so eerie, but if one were to listen closely, it’s more-so melancholy; a hush and a moan. Amidst all of its atmosphere, a piano impossibly rolls, a tumultuous tumbling that fades slowly into, “Eyes Are Mosaics.”

Fraser jubilantly re-enters the album on this track as sui generis off-beats boom and mix-match with childlike ¾ gloom. Her gallimaufry lyrics are strange to the naked eye. An example would be Fraser making the phrase, “sushi orange,” a normality, tripping up listeners expecting an adjective-noun phrase, typical of the English language. She is known to do this and mask the lyrics of a song behind the melody, feeling as though the words aren’t words at all. Instead, they are a part of the music, the notes themselves. This is why some of her phrases seem, “made-up,” or, “nonsensical.” Often, the words are coerced from Latin or random phrases/word structures from different foreign languages. Within, “Eyes Are Mosaics,” her phrases are rounding and building on each other, up and down (most likely to have a mosaic and crumbly feel). This is not done syntactically, only musically.

“The Ghost Has No Home,” and, “Bloody and Blunt,” are reminiscent of a lost homemade film, or something you may hear within the cult classic, Donnie Darko. They act as another instrumental break in the album, which might make you either fall asleep with ease or contemplate life as you know it. In both songs, a synth, raindrop tinkering molds oboe and cymbal crashes dropping in once in a while to remind us they’re not completely sad songs; just more like the background music to an ‘80s Public Service Announcement video played in gym class.

This brings us to the enchanting ending: “Ooze Out and Away, Onehow.” Even though the artists did not want to put the Cocteau Twins name on the album, this song definitely could be a part of the band’s discography. Drifting in, the delay effect within the song is allowed to breathe completely while Fraser’s angelic pearly vocals are interspersed, guiding the maze of guitar delay. We’re taken to a faraway land, like Oz or Earthsea, letting us sleep among the poppy seed garden. And then finally, at around the 2:33 mark, utter, gushing warmth occurs (sort of like the detonation ending from the Cocteau Twins’, “The Spangle Maker”, around the 3:35 mark for those interested). Fraser wraps us in her arms one last time, her empathy matched by the passionate, but controlled explosion brought into existence by Guthrie, Raymonde and Budd.