This Mortal Coil: This Mortal Coil [Box Set]
There are so few record labels whose releases have as definitive a sound as those on British indie 4AD did in the 1980’s and early 90’s.
It was virtually its own breed of new wave, and its definitive artists of the era – Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Clan of Xymox, and Modern English, to name a few – all seemed to make albums that passed through the reverberant 4AD sound tank. Add to the mix the distinctive artwork of in-house designer Vaughan Oliver, and the picture is complete.
But no artist embodied 4AD more than the non-band This Mortal Coil, and for good reason – it was the brainchild of label founder Ivo Watts-Russell (along with producer John Fryer), and featured a revolving list of musicians that at least initially were mostly either signed to or associated with the label. For 4AD by 4AD.
Now all three TMC albums have been reissued in lavish box set detail, each tastefully remastered for the digital age.
Debut album It’ll End in Tears is the stone classic of the bunch. Like most of the group’s best tracks, many highlights here are covers – the jarring and spacious take on Big Star’s “Kangaroo” and the immortal, ethereal rendition of Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren.” Some instrumental passages can meander, and certain vocal contributions (ahem, Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance) can be a bit much sometimes, but this album alone seals the deal. Lush, dreamy, and definitively gothic.
The two albums that followed, Filigree and Shadow and Blood, are much more sprawling at nearly 75 minutes each. Filigree is an endurance run and could stand to lose a few tracks, but the rewards are still there, particularly on another Tim Buckley cover, “Morning Glory,” original “The Jeweller,” and its many instrumental interludes, like the brilliantly titled “The Horizon Bleeds and Sucks Its Thumb.”
The slightly more organic “Blood” is a bit less compelling with both its production and most of its songs a bit more straightforward, though it has its moments in the dreamy “Carolyn’s Song,” “Several Times,” and in its melancholic atmospheres and arrangements.
A real prize in the box set though is the exclusive bonus disc Dust & Guitars, which compiles non-album singles and extra tracks, the true highlight being the group’s first single, a cover medley of Modern English’s “16 Days / Gathering Dust.”
For those that claim to be fans of the dark, romantic side of dream pop, new wave and post-punk, this collection is simply vital to your being. Space out, make out, or slit your wrists to it; either way you’ll be overcome.