Retrospective 3: Filigree & Shadow

This Mortal Coil - Filigree & Shadow
(1986 4AD)

 Possibly one of the most ambitious albums of all time, This Mortal Coil's 2nd LP, Filigree & Shadow, spans 2 records, about 5 centuries of music and countless genres. 25 tracks long (13 of them instrumental), Filigree and Shadow is a gorgeous masterpiece created by an amazing band.

 This Mortal Coil is yet another band that can't be fully enjoyed until you know their history. The band was a collective of musicians led by Ivo Watts Russell, founder of 4AD records. Although the label is known today for overhyped, mainstream acts like Bon Iver and tUnE-yArDs, Watts Russell started a goth renaissance. In the 80s, 4AD was home to dream-pop icons like Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and even Modern English. Although these bands maintained a dark gothic mentality, the music was lush, awash in reverb and even a bit poppy at times. In 1984, he teamed up with Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde and recruited an army of vocalists and crafted an album of 12 songs, mostly covers. He named the band This Mortal Coil after a line from Hamlet. The surprising success of the single "Song To the Siren" helped build a fanbase, and the Band's sophomore LP, Filigree & Shadow, was released in 1986.

 Filigree & Shadow was a radical departure from the band's previous material, as can be deduced right from the first track, "Velvet Belly". Only a minute long, the instrumental track manages to captivate with just a lone keyboard. The instrumentals aren't used to fill space in this album. Instead, they create a cinematic atmosphere, bridging the divides between each reverb drenched tune. "Velvet Belly" smoothly transitions into   a cover of Pearls Before Swine's "The Jeweller", featuring Breathless lead singer Dominic Appleton's rich baritone gently carried by waves of keyboard. It's interesting to note that each of the 4 sides of the LP are crafted to fit together, and side 1 features two of TMC's best instrumentals, "Ivy and Neet" and "Meniscus". The former is an emotionally powerful, piano driven track, while the latter features the delay-heavy guitar tone that made 4AD famous.

 Many tracks have a bit an R&B in space vibe, like "I Want to Live", made unbearably haunting by a barely audible church organ. A few of the songs are a bit too frightening for words, such as "Fire Brothers", but they're counter-balanced by the beautiful Disney-esque ballads "Morning Glory" and "My Father". Other standout tracks include the poppy "Strength of Strings" and the bizarre "The Horizon Bleeds and Sucks its Thumb."

 A masterpiece to some and alienating to others, Filigree & Shadow is undeniably unique and influential. First-time listeners should check out It'll End in Tears and Blood first, but This Mortal Coil's sophomore album remains my favorite.