Despite the extreme diversity and endless number of sub-genres across alternative and independent music today, there are but a few obvious landmark records towards which musicians and critics routinely turn. Among those records on the highest mantle is Loveless, the immense 1991 sophomore full-length record from My Bloody Valentine, recognized for creating shoegaze, and influencing artists of many genres and generations. After nearly sending Creation Records into bankruptcy while recording their opus, My Bloody Valentine ceased to be, save for a few EP reissues and unproductive recording sessions, until they resurfaced in 2012, and this month released m b v: the long awaited follow up to Loveless.
To celebrate the band’s return –and honor their long lasting legacy–the FP editorial staff has compiled a musical timeline between Loveless and m b v, filling in the blanks that you may have missed. Today’s post covers records released between 1991 and 1997. Click here to read Part 2.
My first experience with Loveless was hearing the instantly recognizable, distortion-heavy repetitive guitar riff of “Sometimes” in a trailer for Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation: a perfect song soundtracking a perfect movie, both the artistic manifestation of pure yearning.
Sure, there’s the infamous backstory surrounding Loveless’ expensive recording, its revolutionary use of the tremolo guitar bar, and its lack of follow-up (until now). And there’s the long-standing cliche: not many bought it, but everyone who did started a band. But Loveless is one of those rare albums best first appreciated without any context. Just push play; you’ll become immediately trapped by the opening drum pounding and jerky glide guitar riff of “Only Shallow” and later the mere seconds of the string-laden, squirmy sexuality of “Touched”.
After a few listens, letting Loveless sink in, it’s then okay to analyze what came before it and what followed it and appreciate it for its sheer musical importance. “When You Sleep” refines the muted vocal-synth combo of bands like Cocteau Twins into a quintessential shoegaze sound that makes Loveless the seminal genre record, one that helped spawn further era-defining records (Siamese Dream) and copycats (anything by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart). The album ends with the seven-minute, loop drum beat-backed, and ironically-titled “Soon”, a song that is ideally the coming attraction for what’s next. But it stops suddenly after it settles into its groove, leaving you wanting so much more.
More came, but it took awhile. For lovers of an album whose opener started with the command “sleep” and whose closer started with the command “wake up”, it would be twenty two years before they got to dream again. And if twenty-two years is your definition of “soon,” then you better make an album that won’t grow old and tired during that time span. Loveless never did. -Jordan Mainzer
Just one year out, the influence of Loveless is clear. It’s hard to imagine In The Presence of Nothing existing without Loveless essentially directly preceding it. The record does little to stand out on its own, especially with another twenty years of artists that have not only been inspired by My Bloody Valentine, but have expanded on their howling guitars and atmospheric tone into new and unique sounds. While it’s not an awful record, it seems like a stretch to define it as existing anywhere outside of Loveless’ shadow. -Andrew Hertzberg
Sugar - Copper Blue (1992)
In 1988, My Bloody Valentine signed to Creation Records, whose owner felt they were “the Irish equivalent of Hüsker Dü,” the seminal hard rock band that had broken up the previous year, but ultimately influenced a generation of indie rock. Subsequently, Hüsker Dü’s singer, guitarist, and songwriter Bob Mould went solo long enough to write the future theme song for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and then formed the power pop trio Sugar. Released the year after MBV’s Loveless, which Mould credits as a major inspiration, Sugar’s debut album Copper Blue is an upbeat triumphant rock record similar to roughly contemporary albums by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Pixies, and a bit of throwback to The Byrds. The record features Mould’s nasal, growly, earnest vocals over distorted guitars, bass, drums, and on “Hoover Dam,” the now cringe-worthy keyboards. One of the album’s tent-poles is the “The Slim,” an upbeat 6/8 ode to a lover who died from AIDS. Two decades later, the last verse (To honor and obey/To cherish and to worship/In sickness and in health/For richer for poorer for anything/’Til death do us part) sounds like a case for same-sex marriage, one more way that the openly gay Mould was ahead of his time. -Keith Meatto
With the exception of the impressionist, slide-heavy distorted guitars, Boston’s the Swirlies don’t sound so much like My Bloody Valentine, mostly since the lyrics are discernible. In fact, they remind me more of the Pixies with an attention span and less yelps. A lot of the guitar work actually seems ahead of the 90s emo scene, and it’s not hard to imagine bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, Cursive, or the Promise Ring, finding influence in the Swirlies debut album. The influence of Loveless is found in the album’s attention to distorted detail, but is certainly less of a behemoth. -AH
As a man who may or may not have written “Billy Corgan is God” on the side of his 9th-grade biology notebook in liquid paper, I might not be in the best position to present an objective critical evaluation of this record. An enormous critical and commercial success on its release in 1993, Siamese Dream was the record that, for better or worse, transformed the alt-rock revolution from a populist punk triumph to an oligarchy of narcissism and grandiosity. Corgan was the Leviathan at the center of this oligarchy, taking Kevin Shields’ notorious perfectionism to its tyrannical extreme, shutting his “band members” out of the creative process in the service of his own artistic vision. And what a vision it was. Stealing the murky, tidal-wave-of-sound aesthetic of Loveless (as well as Loveless’ mixing engineer Alan Moulder), Corgan added his own rock-classicist sensibilities, blending in traditional song structure, massive guitar solos, and a hefty dose of the loud-quiet-loud dynamic so trendy at the time. An indisputable masterpiece, Siamese Dream stands as a perfect example of how the rock avant-garde can be harnessed in the service of accessibility, ambition, and success. -Leo Lopez
Catherine Wheel - Chrome (1993)
Two years after Loveless, My Bloody Valentine’s shoegaze started leaking over into more radio-friendly rock. While most people tend to associate this shift with Smashing Pumpkins and Siamese Dream, Catherine Wheel’s Chrome is perhaps the lesser-known, less buzzworthy alternative. While Chrome flirted with mainstream popularity as a result of single “Crank”, it never really fully achieved that popularity. In terms of today, perhaps it was the failure of Catherine Wheel’s last effort, 2000′s abysmal Wishville, that has prevented hype machine websites from honoring records like Chrome in retrospective “best of” lists. Granted, in hindsight, a record like Chrome might be labeled “generic” or “middle of the road” today. At the time of its release, however, Chrome was a clear example of a revolutionary genre popping up here and there in more accessible tunes. -JM
In retrospect, Tsunami seems of a piece with a tidal wave of no frills female-fronted acts – including The Breeders, Belly, Liz Phair, and Sleater Kinney—whose aesthetic blended punk, pop, and indie rock. Tsunami founders Jenny Toomey and Kristen Thomson also ran the record label Simple Machines, which released punk and indie rock records for most of the 90s. In that DIY spirit, the band’s languid sophomore album The Heart’s Tremolo is unabashedly unpolished with its talky vocals over a herky-jerky mix of clean and fuzzy guitars, stuttering bass, and sparse drums, a sound perhaps best described by the album’s second song title: “Fits and Starts.” While most of the songs are less dense than anything by My Bloody Valentine, the dark and distorted instrumental “Slaw” might be an outtake from Loveless. And grammar and syntax worshippers will appreciate these two lyrical gems: “She’s no side thought pause like a comma/She’s a period” and “They brought her/To the adjective altar.” Amen. -KLM
Bardo Pond - Amanita (1996)
Despite its many weird attributes, Loveless isn’t exactly a psychedelic record. Sure, there are moments that had to have come from drugs, but the grim overtones are strangely sobering. Philadelphia’s Bardo Pond took Loveless’ 10 ton guitar aesthetics, and filtered them through a hefty dose of LSD and candy coated light. The result is one fantastic piece of rock history, blending the reigning alternative sounds of the day with 70s post-hippy freakouts. Let’s just say, had it been released in 2012, it would have given GOAT’s World Music a run for its money. -Peter Lillis
Mogwai - Young Team (1997)
Mogwai’s Young Team is another record that should receive a similar analytical treatment that we are giving to Loveless, due to the immense influence and uncompromising consequence of this post-rock debut. Young Team is akin to Loveless in that they both find and emphasize the beauty in the quiet-loud dynamic that has come to define alternative music on the whole. Both records turn inward for inspiration, enabling the performers to truly break new ground and reach landmark status. Rather than placing new textures and sonic disorientation as the center of the record, as on Loveless, Young Team opts for a more musical approach, showing the soaring highs and deafening lows that so many post-rock bands have attempted to reach. -PL
Ladies and Gentleman… is a masterpiece in its own right, regardless of rock subgenre. Jason Pierce was no stranger to noisy, psychedelic tunes before Loveless with the Spacemen 3. But with this album, he took the best elements of shoegaze, space-rock, free jazz, and gospel, melding it into a mix of the perfect mix of tear-jerking lyrics, ear-berating breakdowns, and divine melodies. While the album is epic and grandiose (the album includes a choir, various string arrangements, and a cameo from Dr. John) it is not without layers of subtlety that uniquely reveal themselves with each repeated listen. -AH
Peter Lillis, Keith Meatto, Leo Lopez, Andrew Hertzberg and Jordan Mainzer are Frontier Psychiatrist staff members. Care to guess the order of their ages?