Half-Gifts 4th Birthday Special: All-Time Top 5 Cocteau Twins Tracks

5. "Sea, Swallow Me" feat. Harold Budd (The Moon and the Melodies, 1986)

Ushering in the Twins' oft-overlooked collaborative record with New Age keyboardist Harold Budd is perhaps the most frission-inducing album opener I've ever heard, (save for, perhaps, the formless immensity of The Cure's "Plainsong"). Budd sets the track in motion, steadily pumping the rusted pedals of a reverb-y piano arpeggio that drags a Christmas sleigh's worth of heavily distorted, jingle-bell guitar trills and searing cracks of whip-like snares. Simon Raymonde drips a melty, igneous bassline between the small cracks of Robin Guthrie's wintry wall of guitar, forming an amorphous shoegaze slush, stretched in repose on the sidewalk, reflecting the glossolalic glow of Elizabeth Fraser's vocals, at their most abstract and erratic on this album. "Sea, Swallow Me" is a chaotic tempest of dreamy/frustrated emotions, each flowing on their own current, navigable only by distant flares of percussion.

4. "Iceblink Luck" (Heaven or Las Vegas, 1990)

"Iceblink Luck" is the band's most immediate pop single, Guthrie's grainy guitar raining down upon a tinny post-punk bassline like dollar store fireworks on the Fourth of July, Fraser sending wobbly strands of harmony into the night sky. Its inclusion in Jeremy Klein's part of Birdhouse's 1992 skate video Ravers makes it all the more iconic.

3. "Bluebeard" (Four Calendar Cafe, 1994)

One could consider Four Calendar Cafe a brief venture into the shimmery twang of late 70's pop country, spreading acid swaths of pedal steel guitar across a meadow of airy acoustic chords. Serving as the record's most upbeat outlier, "Bluebeard" houses complex, dizzying layers of vocal harmony that meld into a living ecosystem of shouts and whispers - strangely, Fraser seems to be providing a monolithic ambience to support Guthrie's trebly licks, rather than the other way around. This reversal of roles proves successful, producing a memorable oddity in the Twins' already-esoteric catalog.

2. "Cico Buff" (Blue Bell Knoll, 1988)

Teeming with tropical rhythms and sparkling waves of guitar, Blue Bell Knoll is my most revisted Cocteau Twins album for good reason: it's the perfect blend of vivacity and droney meditation. Take standout cut "Cico Buff" for example, its pensive shoegazery ballooning with potential energy, waiting to burst until its crescendo of distorted riffage and Fraser's aggressively pretty intonations.

1. "Half-Gifts" (Twinlights, 1995)

My official introduction to the Twins still provides the same goosebumps raising vibes that it did through the speakers of my family's grey minivan on drives to church, Kroger or the library when I was an impressionable grade-schooler. From its funereal chord progression to its swells of strings to Fraser's raw, wavering delivery, the acoustic version of "Half-Gifts" on the rare Twinlights EP is hauntigly spare, a rickety framework of the Twins' former sprightliness, their eventual breakup looming in the shadows. Gothic melodrama it its finest.