I'm reading 4AD history "Facing the Wrong Way" (more of which when I've finished, but of course its sent me back to the wonderful records.
1. Treasure - Cocteau Twins
Everything they did was wonderful but this was the coming together of everything I loved about them. Their 3rd album was less caustic than their debut and the dark echoey trappings of "Head Over Heels" had been replaced with a remarkably full sound as Robin Guthrie turned up the reverb. The songs are all wonderful, and the one word titles give the sense of it being an art piece. Later albums are lusher but this remains my favourite. The single "Pearly Dewdrops' Drops" was contemporaneous and remains my all time favourite song by anyone.
2. Surfer Rosa / Come on Pilgrim - Pixies
I bought the original CD of "Surfer Rosa" when it came out which included their first mini album so for me this is one record - raw, exciting, unhinged at times, but also beautiful at times. That it was on 4AD seemed an anomaly really - but of course so had been the Birthday Party and Bauhaus.
3. Clan of Xymox - Clan of Xymox
Where did this come from? Holland apparently. When Peel played these North Europeans I was blown away - it was like the music that New Order were aiming for but couldn't quite reach. That debut album is by far their finest hour, its a pop record but without a pop sensibility if that makes sense. They lost the "Clan of" became more of a new wave synth pop band and broke America; none of those were bad things, but this was something else.
4. The Bad Seed / Mutiny - The Birthday Party
I prefer these two EPs (one on 4AD and one on Mute, but eventually collated as an "album") than their albums as they bridge the gap between the brutal beauty of that band and Nick Cave's more symphonic and epic work that would follow.
5. It'll end in Tears - This Mortal Coil
Ivo's 4AD supergroup were probably better in some ways on the subsequent "Filigree and Shadow" but its the daring of this debut that still surprises - a mix of electronica, ambience, and classic songs, sung by wonderful vocalists. Highlight is of course "Song to the Siren" with Elizabeth Fraser but the whole album still has a beauty all of its own.
6. Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares - Various
This album of a capella Bulgarian folk songs was a revelation - only the 4AD name and cover could have made indie kids like me pick up something this unusual. It was the last record I listened to at university in the early hours of the morning as I packed up following my graduation. Cannot begin to explain how emotional it made me feel at the time.
7. In the Flat Field - Bauhaus
Still my favourite Bauhaus album at least in the extended CD version with contemporaneous singles on it. Bauhaus were never liked by the music press - ironic how later 4AD would be so lauded - but this is stunning in every way. Raw, exciting and, yes, gothic.
8. Fetisch - Xmal Deutschland
4AD's other great gothic discovery - a German art rock band that sung in their native tongue. Soundtrack to my sixth form. Never saw them live, sadly, but this record still resonates.
9. Burning Blue Soul - Matt Johnson
Bought this when it was reissued after "Soul Mining" - this solo LP is more like a Cherry Red record, with a naive psychedelia and a beautiful feel that was pretty out of time when it was released.
10. Pod - the Breeders
Pixies spin off with Kim Deal writing short sharp scrappy songs and making an album that should be all rights have been forgettable but still sounds fresh, punchy and exciting especially the unexpected Beatles cover "Happiness is a Warm Gun."
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