Music Reviews

Snowbird Moon

(Bella Union) Rating - 7/10

Just prior to Cocteau Twins' dissolution in 1997, band members Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde set up their own record label, Bella Union, primarily with the intention of releasing their own material via the outlet. After the demise of the band, the pair began signing other artists to the label and Raymonde - now alone - continues to run proceedings to this day.

The multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist Raymonde is also involved in production and mixing responsibilities, and it wasn’t until he picked up an old baby grand piano free of charge from an advertisement that he started writing his own music again. Raymonde had come across the hushed tones of Stephanie Dosen in 2006, and subsequently the pair worked together on A Lily For The Spectre, released in 2007.

Following a stint as Massive Attack's vocalist, Dosen teamed up with Raymonde again in 2009 and the pair finally released their first album as Snowbird - Moon. With Dosen resident in the US and Raymonde based in the UK, the writing process was unconventional. Raymonde would tinkle the ivories late at night - in the moonlight - before sending the music to Dosen; the singer would then add her softly spun words to the piece to create the whole. With further additions to the music coming from collaborators including Radiohead pair Ed O’Brien and Philip Selway, the far lengthier process of producing the final masters was then undertaken.

The result is a thing of beauty, but is beauty enough? Upon first listen, there is much lost in the dreamy haze, each track flowing seamlessly into the next with differences minimal, occasionally undetectable. The vocals remain at a constant level throughout, barely showing any signs of emotion as the music, predominantly piano focused as would be expected, follows a similarly unwavering path. But just like much of Cocteau Twins’ output, the same phenomenon is evident here: repeated plays will reveal hidden treasures that only become apparent through concentrated listening.

The opening track, I Heard The Owl Call My Name is about as heavy as it gets, with beautifully atmospheric guitar layers adding to the piano and wispy vocals. It’s the first glimpse of a woodland creature we get, but a veritable procession of them follow in due course, including birds, foxes, bears and mice as nature takes hold. Of the animal themed titles, Bears On My Tail probably represents the best moment of the album, its gentle piano joined by prominent yet subtle drums; melody appears more visible on first listen than many tracks here. More often than not, the sparseness is overwhelming and this reaches its peak with the rather uneventful We Carry White Mice whilst Charming Birds From Trees sounds a little too wishy-washy, which can be a danger at all times.

The enchanting Porcelain contains another, more apparent melody as the piano is less engulfed by the vocals than on other tracks, with strings also appearing through the mystical haze; it’s easy to imagine a world of elves and other mythical beings during this experience. In Lovely sounds like a reflective movie moment of melancholy, with reverb echoing alongside the ever present piano and gorgeously harmonious vocal tones whispering “I gave everything I am to you”.

More noticeable variations to the constant formula appear occasionally: drums are again prominent for Come To The Woods through a piano chord plod with some heavenly guitar and keyboard touches whilst an unexpected electronic beat introduces album closer Heart Of The Woods.

For the entire album’s length, failure to listen closely at any point runs the risk of the music fading into the background - it’s beautiful background music at worst but much more if it is given the attention it deserves. Whether or not listeners will be prepared to give it enough of a chance to enchant could ultimately determine its success.