Cocteau Twins – Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops, Aikea-Guinea

Author: Colin | Published: 24/11/10

Cocteau Twins

Cocteau Twins

Cocteau Twins

Cocteau Twins

Cocteau Twins

Cocteau Twins

Cocteau Twins

Artist Cocteau Twins
Title 1-2: Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops; 3-7: Aikea-Guinea
Label 4AD
Year 1-2: 1984; 3-7: 1985
Design 1-2: 23 Envelope. From a photograph by Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934); 3-7: 23 Envelope
Music Cocteau Twins-music
Desktop Download image
Notes 23 Envelope was the nom-de-plume for the partnership of designer Vaughan Oliver and photographer Nigel Grierson between 1983 and 1988.

Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops and Aikea-Guinea are a pair of 12″ singles that date from fairly early in both the Cocteau Twins’ and Oliver’s career. They share a formal elegance, a strong eye for pattern and texture, clear, graceful use of type and an approach to framing embodied in the 4AD logo itself. They’re also quite distinct from other designs for the group, with the exception to some extent of Lullabies.

Each design draws inspiration from the past: one Victorian and the other prehistoric. In subject, they convey a sense of mystery that provides an intuitive visual analogue to the group’s music and, in particular, Elizabeth Fraser’s enigmatic vocals. Gertrude Käsebier’s 1904 photograph, entitled ‘The Magic Crystal’, is a curious combination of swirling movement and silent concentration. The fossil on the reverse of Aikea-Guinea looks a little like a hedgehog curled in upon itself, seeking privacy and/or protection.

The minimalism of Aikea-Guinea’s design is particularly impressive. The front presents a nameplate bearing five unfamiliar words in gold caps against a silvery-black, rock-like texture. The effect is blankly empty. It acts like a closed door which when opened reveals something fascinating within, in this case the imprint of the fossil. The design puts the two sides of the sleeve to subtle, but powerful effect: it first excludes the viewer and then discloses something to her (though that thing, deep history, remains ultimately out of reach). Front or rear viewed in isolation are much less impressive – the design only comes alive when the viewer is aware of both sides.

Finally, the distressed type of the group’s logo is laid with care over the lower part of the fossil at the same time as it floats about the rigid sides of the flattened rectangle which contains the design credit and catalogue release number.

See also:

Vaughan Oliver

Listen Cocteau Twins – Aikea-Guinea


  1. Ah, the Cocteau Twins and 23 Envelope – a match made in Heaven (or Las Vegas?).
    I met Vaughan Oliver a couple of years ago at an exhibition of V23 posters in Kingston-on-Thames. At that time he said that he was thinking of putting together an autograph (art book) of his work for 4AD – this hasn’t happened yet, and don’t hold your breath, but I do think it will happen someday. In the meantime, we have to buy these EP’s and albums – a lovely thing to do. My two favourite sleeves Oliver produced for the Cocteaus are the ones for Tiny Dynamine and Echoes In A Shallow Bay – one has smooth textures to the photo and the other is uneasily rough, as in the sea being rough.
    One of Oliver’s protége’s was, of course, Chris Bigg, now still part of V23 but also doing his own collaborations with David Sylvian on the Samedhi Sound imprint.

    Comment by Conrad — November 25, 2010 @ 5:57 pm
  2. A book of the V23 artwork for 4AD? That’s something I’d rush to buy. I am such a fan of early 4AD stuff, mostly 80s really, and their artwork have been such an inspiration for me.

    Interesting choice of Cocteau Twins artwork. They’re perhaps not quite my favourites (I’ve always particularly loved the Head Over Heels/Sunburst and Snowblind covers) but as you mentioned, they are quite unusual in the band’s catalogue. I was also always fascinated by the image of the girl doing a cartwheel looking like an arum lily, an image that was used for quite a few years as a logo of sort for the band.

    Comment by themilkman — March 2, 2011 @ 9:20 am
  3. All the artwork made for Cocteau Twins is incredibly beautiful. I especially love limited 4CD box set “Lullabies to Violaine” which is made of very unusual kinds of paper, with charming paintings. Vaughan Oliver at his best.

    Comment by Alexey — May 31, 2011 @ 10:07 pm
  4. Hello Alexey, agreed – I bought and photographed Lullabies to Violaine last year – just haven’t got round to putting it up yet.

    Comment by Colin — June 3, 2011 @ 9:27 pm
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