ANGELIC. BEATIFIC. Celestial, delirious, ethereal, fantastical, giddy . . . Pick three or more, and you know how it feels to be a pop critic searching for words to convey the heady experience of the Cocteau Twins' music.
The enigmatic Scottish group, which appears Thursday at Lisner Auditorium, makes music that inspires lowly music journalists to haul out their most extravagant adjectives -- one English scribe went so far as to call their sound "the voice of God."
This kind of sugarcoated talk embarasses the three Twins: singer Elizabeth Fraser and guitarists Robin Guthrie (Fraser's husband) and Simon Raymonde, who turn out to be as down-to-earth as their music is heavenly.
Of course, trying to write (or talk) sensibly about something as personal and evanescent as music is difficult, if not impossible. Cocteau Twins (no "The," if you please) know this as well as anyone by now, and they joke about the journalists' attempts to pin down their glorious winged things. Though they've been flown in to a New York hotel room for a day or two of phone interviews with U.S. journalists to promote their new Capitol/4AD album "Heaven or Las Vegas," they refuse to step into the trap of describing or explaining their music. So an interview with the untalktative Twins is sort of comically pointless.
But that seems the whole point of this utterly unpigeonholeable music, anyway -- the idea is to stop making sense, give up the interference of "meaning," and abandon yourself to the sensual, textural pleasures of Fraser's exotic, ecstatic, multi-tracked one-woman choir; and of the baroque atmospheres, sometimes chiming, echoing calm, sometimes eerily urgent, sculpted by Guthrie and Raymonde. Ultimately, you either "get it" or you don't, and where some will hear babytalk and amorphous twanging, others will imagine ornate fantasias and private mythologies.
"We make pretty uninteresting reading, I suppose," admits Fraser in the manner representative of the Twins' bubble-puncturing bluntness. "I mean, we're just another group making records, aren't we?"
Hardly. Fraser's untrained but endlessly flexible instrument, the voice of the angels, is beyond words -- bending the lyrics beyond comprehension, she sings in what amounts to her own language. Much of "Heaven or Las Vegas" was recorded while Fraser was pregnant with the couple's first child, Lucybelle (the new album was released on her first birthday), and Fraser says her condition caused her to discover some deeper sounds within herself.
"Of course, I go into the studio with all the words written down," insists Fraser, who speaks softly with a deep burr. But the lyrics emerge in alien tongues.
"Ooh, that's just laziness, just bad diction," she laughs, with characteristic shyness (and slyness), neatly sidestepping the issue. On the new album, an identifiable word breaks through the aural shimmer now and again.
"That's perhaps Lucybelle's influence," Fraser admits. "There may be a lullabye or two in there."
It may help you to know that the eight-year-old band took its name from either a Simple Minds song, or from French artist Jean Cocteau, who wrote "Les Enfants Terribles," the tale of two brothers and a sister named Elizabeth who create an alternate reality. Then again, it may not. And when it comes to the song titles, you're on your own: The albums, including the Victorian trifle of "Treasure," the lacy, acoustic "Victorialand" and the pulsing, decidedly non-New Age "Heaven or Las Vegas" are filled with whimsical titles like "Pearly Dewdrops Drop" and "A Kissed Out Red Floatboat," and perhaps the most preposterous of all the titles in their canon, "Frou-frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires," which sounds almost like a self-parody.
Yet somehow these twee titles seem to suit the ornate compositions, crafted at the Twins' home studio in Twickenham. "We make it all up as we go along," says Raymonde, who notes that the music is constructed before Fraser enters the studio, and that most of the mysterious instrumental effects are achieved "by accident," using guitars rather than the omnipresent synthesizers.
To create their vast rococo-'n'roll sound onstage, Raymonde says, the Twins recently auditioned in British music papers for two additional guitarists, and found Ben Blakeman and Mitsu Tate, resulting in a four-guitar lineup that qualifies the Twins as a heavy metal band. Tongue in cheek, Raymonde describes the Twins' live act as "45 minutes of panicking and trying to play the songs right, while Liz just stands there and sings."
So why bother touring at all?
"Because we forgot how dead boring it was last time," deadpans Fraser.
So, you see, in the end there's nothing left for a frustrated (but amused) interviewer to do but go along with this stubborn secrecy, leaving the band to its private world, and its listeners' fond and florid fantasies undisturbed.
COCTEAU TWINS -- Appearing Thursday with Mazzy Star at Lisner Auditorium. Call 800/543-3041.