August 18, 2017

My Bloody Valentine - Loveless (1991)


My Bloody Valentine is famous for establishing the top standard for shoegaze--a genre defined by a swirling atmosphere usually created by guitars hooked up to many effects pedals and filters. I guess the genre's name comes from the musicians constantly focused on the ground treating these pedals like they're each an individual instrument. Loveless' impact on shoegaze is pretty much the same as how I've described Doggystyle to g-funk; there's a lot of great stuff in the genre that frustratingly doesn't get attention because the ubiquity of this album's clout, but it's still truly the most individual and top-notch album of them all. People make the mistake of thinking that this sound and concept magically popped out of left field and landed only in the laps of My Bloody Valentine (also similar to how beginners view g-funk), but there was a lot of work and other inspirations for the group to achieve this aesthetic.

My Bloody Valentine falls on the noise rock side of the shoegaze spectrum (as opposed to the more dream-pop or electronic sub-categories), so who else would they take inspiration from other than the king of noise rock himself, J Mascis? Just like Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr had a symbiotic relationship where they'd exchange ideas on wax. I'm not quite sure how recording dates overlapped between the two bands or if J and Kevin Shields talked much at that point, but history seems to have played out like this: You're Living All Over Me inspired My Bloody Valentine to make something of Isn't Anything's style, Isn't Anything inspired Dinosaur Jr to come up with an Americanized version of the album called Bug, and Bug provided the fire needed for the making of Loveless. My Bloody Valentine funnels the sea of distortion heard on Dinosaur Jr tracks like No Bones, Sludgefeast, They Always Come, and Keep The Glove into a more appropriate bowl-sized pool of peaceful swirling noise.

The extreme use of compression is a must for every song on this album and is probably the number one facet contributing to this album's unidentical sound. Colm O'Ciosoig is an impressive drummer, but it would be hard to notice by using only this album as a reference. The compression on the drums makes him sound more along the lines of a drum machine used by Cocteau Twins on Heaven Or Las Vegas. Nothing is wrong with this at all since it plays perfectly into Shields' master plan of creating the world's most peaceful noise rock album. This is an interesting decision for a noise-based shoegaze group and also something done by a lot of metal bands, specifically the lo-fi black metal to come after this. Compare My Bloody Valentine's use of drums on here to Ride's--pretty much what O'Ciosoig sounds like live. Bilinda Butcher handles nearly all of the lead vocals for Loveless and she does well at making the whole album feel like some sort of lucid dream. The lyrics are cool because they can either be paid attention to or just enjoyed for the sound of her voice alone, depending on your preference. Phrases like "Little girls in their party dresses didn't like anything there" are a pretty solid way to maintain a far-out headspace. The guitar and pedal work is obviously the album's lifeblood; it seems to me that most tracks have a 'lush guitar' undercurrent and a 'shrill/abrasive guitar' overcurrent which together make this vortex of dream noise. The instrumental melodies are usually minimal but highly effective in making each track an individual favorite. This could be wrong, but it sounds like the album is mostly constructed of loop layering--Talking Heads style; if it is, then that's probably the primary contributor to each track's consistency in its tone and levels. One of the most essential rock albums and one of the few that's worth the praise its given.

Sample

Loveless