I’m still not really quite sure what to make of today’s album, “Loveless” by My Bloody Valentine. It is our second day in a row with an Irish band, and perhaps there are shadows of this sound in where U2 and others were headed, but I did not expect to discover a new sub-genre in music that I did not even realize existed. Shoegaze music, which is identified with bands playing in a fixed, immobile stance as they grind away staring at the ground below them, is known audibly for its excessive distortion, recurring rhythms and riffs, nearly indistinguishable vocals and apparently intense volume during live shows. Although I had never heard of it before this process, “Loveless” is the #73 rated album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and apparently was the foundation for all shoegaze music that followed. Even after several listens, I’m not quite sure what I have listened to, but there are some inviting sounds along the way as I sift through the audio haze.
The record opens with “Only Shallow”, one of their most well-known songs and one of several to contain a very hypnotic and rhythmic riff that is unforgettable, almost as if it was an air raid raining down on Dublin. “Loomer” and “Touched” are transition songs, with the latter emitting a riff that seemingly simulates the sound of whales communicating under the sea. “To Here Knows When” is a unique creation, in that it is over five minutes of what feels like one extended chord drawn out, as if it was warped vinyl riding up and down the single note.
“When You Sleep” is the closest thing to a pop single on this album, with another catchy recurring riff that rides the same warping roller coaster ride. The vocals aren’t quite as buried in the mix, and I genuinely have grown to really like this song as an identity for this album. “I Only Said” follows that same hypnotic pattern, as if you are being drawn to a light from afar.
If I had to pick any band I know who has some of this sound, it would be The Smashing Pumpkins, and the song “Come In Alone” has a very similar chord structure and vocal pattern to “Rocket” by Billy Corgan and company. “Sometimes” centers around a lower and crunchier guitar chord, and “Blown A Wish” is built around the female vocal leads of Bilinda Butcher. The album ends with “Soon”, which opens with a Beatles-esque distortion fading into one of the most up-tempo tracks on the record. In some ways, this song feels like the closing credits, and it delivers the energy to let you know this band is only getting started.
My Bloody Valentine has had several stops and starts along their long shoegazing journey, but “Loveless” will always be their biggest accomplishment in the studio, and like many records along the way, I’m grateful for learning about an entire movement of music, much less a single artist or recording.