Saturday, January 9, 2010

Love / Loveless

It’s been almost twenty actual years since My Bloody Valentine, virtually appearing from nowhere, re-in-fucking-vented music with their album Loveless (1991), & then more or less just disappeared. Leaving all subsequent tomb raiders the task of sifting through the ashes & sand, the fossils & the pottery shards.

Have you taken the time to hear this anytime lately? Here, cancel all your commitments for the next five & one-half minutes. You owe it to yourself:

MBV-What You Want

It’s beautiful when a brilliant idea can be expressed very simply. To my ears, what Kevin Shields & co did here was to start with the big-room reverb & distortion combination that had sonically defined the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Psychocandy (5 or 6 years earlier, already by then an artifact in pop-culture’s merciless time zone), and thicken it. Uh, densify it. With multiple uberdubs, redundant microphone strategies, and a bunch of obscure & cryptic samples. Every last speck of potential silence is filled here: talk about yer Wall of Sound, this shit is monolithic. There are other ingredients here (Bilinda Butcher’s breathy vocals key among them), but the density of the guitar noise is what defines this album, & defines the countless (countless, I say!) subsequent instances of its influence. There have been an awful lot of wanna-be MBVs out there since 1991.

In the song above, I have always loved the way it comes to a halt at ~4:20, as if it had just sprinted a mile & so then needs to stand still panting for air for another full-plus minute. Except that the standstill-panting part is actually a rather handsome little tapestry of its own. Woven from a couple layers of, I think, a single processed sample of a flute. & now, nineteen-plus years later, I remain on the verge of identifying the source of that sample. [Other samples on this album I got. I recognize that “Blown a Wish” uses “Cherish” by the Association, circa 1966. I know that “Touched” lifts straight up from Adrian Belew’s 1st solo album Lone Rhino, 1982. I still can’t quite put my finger on the What You Want sample, though. Anybody know it?] So, thousands of listens later, Loveless retains for me some mystery.

Anyway nowadays MBV is canonical, & we don’t so much get all excited about it any more. However much we may love Loveless, it’s Old News.

Continuing over to Aisle Two where we have New News, you’re still likely to find inter alia Deerhunter (merciless time zone notwithstanding). Microcastle has been out since Halloween 2008, & I have taken the opportunity to hear it frequently & to listen deeply to it. Early in that process, I recognized that, yes quite obviously, Bradford Cox is well-acquainted with MBV. [This is in no means intended as derogatory toward Mr. Cox, whom I regard as one of very few actual geniuses working in the realm of “popular” music today.]

Any number of Bradford & co’s songs in Deerhunter & in Atlas Sound carry what I perceive as an obvious flavor of MBV, of J&M Chain, & (not the slightest bit incidentally) of Velvet Underground. This is just one of the musical traditions in which Bradford innovates, & upon which Bradford implicitly comments in his own work.

So, even after having recognized the quote-unquote influence at work there, I was still startled one day to wonder if Deerhunter’s “Neither of Us, Uncertainly” was actually, secretly a cover of MBV’s “What You Want.” & the surprising & incongruous thing that made me wonder that was actually the uncanny similarity between the respective codas of each song. Because “Neither of Us, Uncertainly” also has a standstill-panting part that really sounds a lot (a LOT) like the end of the MBV song. Hear:

DH-Neither of Us, Uncertainly mp3

Isn’t that just kind of cool? I mean, on further listening OK, one song is very clearly not a cover of the other. While the two definitely share (at minimum) a textural approach to the guitar sound, the DH song is just in a whole other realm rhythmically. The MBV is in lockstep 4/4, while DH is actually waltzing (listen, count it!) in threes. So there’s that very fundamental distinction. But the ending bit is, despite different instrumentation, so similar that I now can’t hear it as anything other than a clear & enthusiastic shout-out. Bradford & co giving props to them what went before.

Incidentally, Bradford & Atlas Sound are coming back to town even though they were just here. I don’t think I can stand to miss it.


  1. I absolutely admire your blog.I can see you are putting a lot of effort and hard work on your posts, I'm sure I'd visit here more often. You may also want to visit my site. It's about impersonator, acrobatics, unicycling, mentalist and a lot more about other forms of entertainment. Just check it out...

  2. the deerhunter song you speak of is actually by the guitarist lockett pundt, not cox.

  3. Quite correct, sir! The credit here is not Bradford's alone. The error above is all mine. The Factchecker position at Clatter remains unfilled... Thx for setting me straight.

  4. Hi such a clatter (nice blog name by the way),

    Thanks for the comment, your piece is good, it seems to take the opposite side of the argument to mine. You definetly seem to be an MBV fan and I should state that my piece isn’t supposed to be deliberately negative, more a critical, considered re-evaluation. Some of the recording techniques you mention didn’t turn up in my research, for instance Kevin Shield’s has always insisted that theres only two guitar tracks on the songs on ‘Loveless’ and that it his tremolo arm that makes it sound like theres more not overdubs. Sampling was another one I hadn’t picked up on and that was very interesting to read about, I’d read a lot about the use of drum loops and the reasons for it.

    Overall though I really liked your piece and will put a link to you blog into my links and keep on checking it out.

    You also be interested in reading this post:

    Any comments and feedback about my blog are much apprecaited.



  5. Hi Bill, thanks again for commenting, I’m glad your enjoying the site and really apprecaite the feedback. Is there anything that you particularly like? I think you make a good point about Shields and he probably feels the need to justify the expense of ‘Loveless’ too, especially in light of many of Alan McGee’s comments at the time. Yes, though a lot of alternative musicians seem to miss the point (myself included) that post-Eno its not delivery and sound design that can rule over actual muscianship.

    Thought that you might interested in this article (and the comments after it) about Lush and ideas about why they were dismissed in comparsion to MBV and other shoegazers and seem to be forgotten:

    Will contact you for a chat via e-mail for a chat soon.