I needed a new project, so I’m starting this series, which I’ve chosen to call “The Big 30”. For each of the thirty days of April, I’ll write a short piece about each of my thirty favorite albums.
Heaven or Las Vegas — Cocteau Twins
In 50 Cent’s seminal pop hit “Candy Shop,” he compliments a woman (mid-coitally, we can assume) by saying he “ain’t never heard a sound like this before.” Fitty taps into a thrilling and primal sensory experience with that simple line. By the about age 14, we’ve got a handle on most forms of music. We know what rock sounds like, what hip-hop sounds like, what country and metal and jazz and etc. etc. Everything feels like variations on a similar theme, and so we grow tired of songs at the same rate that we dispose of chewing gum. Excepting the aggressively avant-garde, the majority of music is pretty much known to us. As such, discovering a sound that bowls us over as genuinely new is something we never forget. Something that so fully rankles us and shakes up everything we thought we knew about music that we might just want to write a pop-rap radio hit about it.
At sixteen, I had never heard anything like Cocteau Twins before. I wouldn’t even know what the word “shoegaze” meant until weeks later, when I did some determined Googling. Everything about it felt new but softly familiar. Elizabeth Fraser’s gobbledigook vocals changed the way I regard vocals in a song, not as a counterpoint to the music but as nothing more than another layer of sound in a grand synthetic tapestry. Like so many of the albums on this list, the guitar is stretched in every direction as far as it can go until it’s no longer an instrument, but a mode of creating the noise the artists wanted it to.
So maybe this entry’s going to be a lot simpler than I thought it’d be. “Heaven or Las Vegas” manages to be beautiful and moving in a way that struck me as new and thrilling. When you put it like that, making it onto my list of greatest records ever doesn’t even sound that hard.