The audio equivalent of film noir
, Russian Doll
pits mysterious, fog-bound landscapes against impossibly, unsettlingly beautiful female vocals. Imagine Grace Kelly in a seedy cafe on a rainy European street, veiled and mysterious, whispering tales of seduction and betrayal, then disappearing forever, and you've got the flavor, more or less.
Russian Doll is the second full-length from Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie and Siobhan de Mare, once of Mono. As you'd expect, the two weave gossamer tapestries of disembodied sound, transparent and enveloping as Cocteau Twins' best-known work. Yet there's an edge here in the subject matter. "Quelque Jour", based loosely on a scene from Blue Velvet, perfectly captures the album's jaded gorgeousness; a shuffling beat and ye ye girl chorus underscore elliptic sketches of sexual depravity. "(My Baby Was) A Cheat" builds shimmering walls of ringing guitars around a plaintive, little-girl-lost voice that is as innocent as it is disillusioned.
Not that there's no joy in Indiana, violet or otherwise. The album's high point is "New Girl", a swooning, mysterious hymn to love that soars on multi-tracked vocals and the simple, riveting chorus, "I'm his bluebell / I'm his new girl." It's as sunny as the rest of the album is misty and twilit, a rainbow in a drizzly day.
Your main frame of reference for Violet Indiana will be late '80s/early '90s drone-pop -- Sundays, Mazzy Star, Lush and Cowboy Junkies -- yet there's more than a touch of '60s girl group here, particularly in the CD's second half. Tracks like "The Visit" and, especially, "You" have a sleepy, soulful vibe that sounds like a slower, trippier Supremes, all saturated sound and fragile voice.
Russian Doll is defined by beautiful tones, imprecise boundaries, world-weary subject matter and a Phil Spectorian sheen that obscures as much as it illuminates. It's an indistinct kind of experience -- I found myself turning Russian Doll way up, because I couldn't quite make it out. It was no good -- the volume only made the fuzzy edges louder. You can't penetrate its mystery, and maybe you shouldn't try.