Good things take time.
Loveless – My Bloody Valentine
I guess I’ll start the show with a showstopper.
For whatever it’s worth, My Bloody Valentine’s sophomore effort, Loveless, is probably my favorite album of all time.
I say “probably” because I am personally not the biggest fan of trying to rank things in that way. I think that it is a bit of a disservice to yourself and the art to try to put things into boxes like that. But I digress – it’s certainly up there for me.
It can be difficult to try to explain exactly what Loveless is. It’s like a cornucopia of swirling guitars, countless layers of textured fuzz and distortion coupled with distant, oftentimes indecipherable vocals by design (though that hasn’t stopped other bands from performing cover versions of it, interestingly enough), turning them into more of another instrument in the mix, rather than relying on the words themselves. It’s a marriage of dissonant shrieks, noise, and beautiful melodies. Track to track, it teeters on a knife’s edge between grinding abrasiveness and saccharine beauty. Every time I listen to it, I am still impressed by how well they managed to balance it. I can’t imagine it was easy.
Creating Loveless was certainly not easy, in fact. The tumultuous nature of its creation is a rather infamous aspect of the lore surrounding this album. The band had reportedly cycled through nineteen different studios and a handful of studio engineers during the recording process. Depending on who you ask, Loveless nearly bankrupted their label due to it blowing past time and cost estimates, though other accounts dispute the seriousness of these claims.
Appreciating Loveless didn’t come quickly or easily for me. It was unlike anything else I have ever heard at the time, even considering how much I had grown to appreciate psychedelic and 90’s alternative rock by the time I crossed paths with it. Shoegaze as a genre was foreign to me, and it wasn’t until later that I had even become aware of the term at all, so I didn’t even have a convenient label to attach to it. It is one of the most exciting bits of unexplored musical territory that I can ever recall encountering. The ingredients were there, but they weren’t arranged in a way that I could stomach at the time, outside of a few choice tracks such as the poppier and accessible “When You Sleep” and what I consider to be it’s slightly heavier but structurally-reminiscent counterpart “What You Want”, which are still two of my favorites on the record.
I can’t quite recall for certain how I first came across the album. Music discovery and accessibility wasn’t anywhere near as easy then as it was now. This was back in the mid-2000’s, back when the RIAA was still suing grandmothers for hundreds of thousands of dollars because their grandkid had the audacity to fire up Limewire or Kazaa on their computer, which is a stark contrast to now where artists often upload their full albums directly to YouTube for free. I seem to recall being sent this album by a random online friend of mine at the time over AIM as part of a collection of albums that they liked and wanted to share. In hindsight, that was a stupid and unsafe way to get music, but you’ll take what you can get as a cash-strapped middle schooler, I suppose.
I was always drawn to the cover art. Something about the blurry closeup of the guitar awash in a sea of pink stuck to me immediately, but I found the opening track borderline impenetrable for the longest time, which is hilarious to me retrospectively. If you look online, everyone and their mother-in-law claims to have Synesthesia. At the risk of sounding like a bandwagoner, this album makes me feel like I have it as well. Loveless sounds and feels exactly like the artwork that accompanies it – a warm, fuzzy, blurry smorgasbord of pink wrapping around you like the softest, comfiest blanket you have ever known.
“Sometimes” feels like a good illustration of this phenomenon. It’s one of the slower and more somber tracks on the album, washing over you with the undercurrent of a repetitive, fuzzy strum on the bottom end, accompanied by a nice synthesizer and surprisingly clear vocals compared to what you get elsewhere on the record. Whenever I revisit it, it instantly places upon me a euphoric sense of floatiness that I have trouble finding elsewhere. It was a perfect backdrop the way it was used in Lost In Translation as well. Something about it fits the viscerally wistful loneliness felt all throughout the film. I had no idea it was on the soundtrack at the time either, so it was a wonderful surprise on top of a movie that I was already enjoying on its own merits.
It wasn’t until a summer trip to Mackinac Island around what feels like maybe 2005 or 2006 that the album finally clicked for me after sitting in my library for a long time taunting me. I’m not even sure why it finally did. Maybe it was just the confluence of being on a nice trip with two of the people who I was closest to at the time in the back seat of my Grandpa’s car in between sessions of playing dumb teenager things like “Would You Rather?”. I still feel an undercurrent of nostalgia from those moments every time I listen to it again, as I do right now. I think there will always be some bias towards whatever your soundtrack was during your formative moments, and I’m glad this was one of mine.
Loveless feels akin to lightning in a bottle. Not only for myself, but for My Bloody Valentine as well. Despite being a cornerstone of early 90’s alternative rock and the genre of Shoegaze as a whole, the shaky recording process of this album carried many difficulties, supposedly causing a Brian Wilson or Syd Barrett-esque breakdown in Kevin Shields, the group’s frontman during and following the release of the album. Crumbling under the pressure of trying to suitably follow up Loveless, the band effectively parted ways outside of some reportedly sporadic recording over the ensuing years.
Nothing of any substantial substance saw the light of day until the surprise release of MBV in 2013, a solid 22 years after loveless was released, built on a foundation of tracks recorded prior to their formal breakup in 1997, with additional work occurring prior to their 2007 reunion. Surprise album releases may feel rote at this point to some, but the unexpected release of MBV will always be my personal favorite one. There was nothing quite like waking up to the news that a followup to your favorite album suddenly came out 22 years later out of the blue. That was a really nice day. All in all, MBV was a nice release. I find it difficult to criticize it due to what it is. It’s like getting an unexpected course of dessert after a really nice meal.
Loveless has probably done more to sculpt and widen my musical tastes than anything before or since. I was able to walk into genres like harsh noise and lo-fi through the front door as soon as I encountered them. It has helped me approach much more “challenging” music with a much more open mind than I ever would have before. I can’t think of many other reference points that arguably contributed influential DNA to acts such as Death Grips and Tame Impala, who otherwise feel like two opposite ends of the musical spectrum.
At the end of the day, I feel like it is still difficult to pin down exactly what Loveless is. It’s abstract in a way that allows it to fit into just about any sort of vibe that you need it to at the time. Happiness, melancholy, wistful longing, unrequited love, lonely reflections, unadulterated nostalgia, etc. It has a little bit of everything. It does at least end on an upbeat note, with “Soon”, the closing track, providing what is probably the poppiest track on the entire record. It’s a nice bit of cheerful optimism. While that may make it sound inconsistent, it somehow just works. Not a second is wasted anywhere. Cutting anything out of this album would have a detrimental effect. It really is a masterpiece in my eyes. I find that Loveless manages to be the perfect album for whatever you need it to be at the time. If that’s not an indicator of great art, then I’m not sure what is.
While doing some requisite searches in the middle of writing this article, I came across news that My Bloody Valentine plans to release two new albums! I was fully resigned into accepting that MBV would probably be the last thing we ever heard from them, and I was totally okay with that, but that’s a very welcome surprise. I doubt they will have the impact on me that Loveless has had, but nonetheless, I look forward to being surprised all over again. Good things are worth the wait, and if you’re a My Bloody Valentine fan, you are surely a very patient person by now.
Also, I just wanted to take a moment to highlight Sugar. It’s a B-Side that would feel right at home on Loveless, and I think it does a great job of showcasing the band’s masterful balancing act between noise and beauty. If those high-pitched notes were even 1% more shrill, it would have resulted in an unlistenable track. But again, they somehow figured out how to make it work.
Thanks, My Bloody Valentine. I look forward to whatever is next.