|Register||Netphoria's Amazon.com Link||Members List||Mark Forums Read|
||Thread Tools||Display Modes|
|09-06-2007, 01:35 PM||#1|
Consume my pants.
i have to do an informative essay in english about ANYTHING
i'm thinking about doing it on shoegaze.
|09-06-2007, 05:34 PM||#3|
Consume my pants.
are there any books or essays out there that could help me out?
|09-06-2007, 05:36 PM||#4|
Location: the amazing year 400 million
d. is only permitted to comment on country anymore as he is officially an "authoritarian" now according to that politics quiz
|09-06-2007, 05:38 PM||#5|
Consume my pants.
that quiz was wack and bozack.
|09-06-2007, 05:40 PM||#6|
Location: the amazing year 400 million
then again you work for the police
|09-06-2007, 05:55 PM||#8|
Location: the amazing year 400 million
then what is this uniform you're wearing
|09-06-2007, 06:35 PM||#9|
Location: like liutenant dan i'm rollin'
d you should write about the blogosphere
|09-06-2007, 08:02 PM||#10|
That's an awesome idea since nobody knows what shoegaze music is. Every time I've asked someone about it, they've never been like "oh yeah I totally love that shit!" My favorite sub-genre for sure if I had to choose
|09-06-2007, 09:55 PM||#11|
Location: NO FEMS
some hearty lols in the first paragraph alone
THE FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY
COLLEGE OF MUSIC
MY BLOODY VALENTINE’S LOVELESS
David R. Fisher
A thesis submitted to the
College of Music
In partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
Master of Music
Spring Semester, 2006
The members of the Committee approve the thesis of David Fisher on March 29,
Charles E. Brewer
Professor Directing Thesis
Outside Committee Member
The Office of Graduate Studies has verified and approved the above named committee
TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of Tables............................................ .................................................. ........................iv
Abstract.......................................... .................................................. ....................................v
1. THE ORIGINS OF THE SHOEGAZER......................................... ................................1
2. A BIOGRAPHICAL ACCOUNT OF MY BLOODY VALENTINE.………..………17
3. AN ANALYSIS OF MY BLOODY VALENTINE’S LOVELESS...............................28
4. LOVELESS AND ITS LEGACY............................................ .......................................50
BIBLIOGRAPHY...................................... .................................................. ......................63
DISCOGRAPHY....................................... .................................................. ......................66
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH............................................ .................................................6 9
LIST OF TABLES
1. 10 Ways to Avoid Becoming a Guitar Hero.............................................. ......................3
2. Lyrics to “Anarchy in the U.K.”............................................. .........................................5
3. Loveless’s Main Key Areas............................................. ..............................................32
4. Lyrics to “Only Shallow”.......................................... .................................................. ..35
5. Dynamic Contrasts on Loveless.......................................... ..........................................57
Throughout the course of history, numerous works of art have stood at the
forefront of their respective genres. British indie band My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless
is one such work. Their unique sound on the album defined a sub-genre of indie rock
known as shoegaze. This thesis is the first major academic study of My Bloody
Valentine and their decisive presentation of shoegazer aesthetics: Loveless.
In the first chapter, I trace the origins of shoegaze as a resultant effect of the punk,
postpunk, and indie movements that came before it. Later in the chapter, I discuss the
music of several important shoegazer bands. Then, deduced from their commonalities, I
imply a characterization of shoegaze. During the second chapter, I focus more
specifically on My Bloody Valentine. By means of a basic biography, I present My
Bloody Valentine’s development and struggles as a band in order to emphasize the
profundity of their final album, Loveless, on both musical and interpersonal levels. In the
third chapter, I present an analysis of Loveless using both traditional and non-traditional
methods. The goal of this process is to gain further insight into the new realm of sound
possibilities My Bloody Valentine discovered and thus attain a better understanding of
their dream-like art. The chapter stresses the significant innovations presented on the
album. The final chapter offers the reception of Loveless. I accomplish this by dissecting
several reviews, both official and unofficial, with the intention of highlighting its
virtually unanimous positive response.
Throughout the thesis, I have attempted to combine both academic and
journalistic writing and research standards so that interested persons from both areas may
benefit from its reading. The essential objective of this thesis is to justify My Bloody
Valentine as one of the most important bands in music history while also presenting a
contemporary model for popular music studies.
THE ORIGINS OF THE SHOEGAZER
Background and Inspiration for the Thesis
From the summer of 2003 until the summer of 2004, I was a member of a rock
band that I considered the culmination of my musical creativity up to that point called
The House Project. It was not a rock band in the MTV or modern radio sense of the
term, rather the experience was more like four disgruntled musicians with bachelors
degrees in music pounding out their frustrations with a corrupt mainstream music
industry on their instruments—an industry that seemed to place more emphasis on image
than on artistic creativity and the music itself. Our music was initially simple, yet
became more complex—far beyond our initial concept of the band—as the four of us
struggled with our ideas until we achieved what we believed was musical perfection. We
wanted to create beautiful, slow-moving music that would unexpectedly change
dynamics, from so extremely quiet that the listener had to strain to hear the music, to so
recklessly loud that one had to run out of the room. In the process, we wanted to move
people to uncontrollable tears while lyrically satirizing the redundant nature of the
American-suburban life that we were all victims of in our youth.
One night during the spring of 2004, The House Project performed for a wild
college party at our drummer’s house. As we played, the four of us locked into that zone
that we had all become accustomed to being in during our rehearsals, and consequently
forgot we were playing for an audience. Because we were under the influence of alcohol
and certain other mind-altering drugs, we had little choice but to concentrate only on
what we were playing and thus, did not move around a great deal. We planted our feet
and fixed our eyes on our fingers and shoes. The most important thing for us was not to
spoil the music we spent so much time perfecting. The music moved through us and
connected with our inebriated spectators who enthusiastically hailed our music. After our
emotional performance, as my ears were ringing and I was floating in the excitement of
creative success, my friend George, who was a DJ at the local college radio station, came
up to me and said something to the extent of, “Your band is quite good…you guys are
shoegazers.” Not wanting to sound out of touch, I kept myself from asking him what a
shoegazer was because regrettably, I had never heard the term before and was
embarrassed. Nonetheless, I thanked him for his support and later realized that the term
he used so freely to describe my music intrigued me with its apparent history as a genre
of music that somehow influenced my band without having a concrete connection to us.
The ensuing journey into the world of shoegazer music proved to me that there
were more correlations that my band had with the past than I had previously realized.
One of the main influences on The House Project was a band from Iceland that presented
many characteristics of shoegazer music in a further developed state called Sigur Rós. It
was with this band that my investigation began. Shoegazer music has a complicated yet
short history. It developed out of a fledgling indie music scene—a scene that owed a
great deal of its values to concepts from the punk movement of the late 70s and early 80s.
The remainder of this chapter will focus on the early shoegazer movement that spanned
from the late 1980s through the early 1990s, discuss its roots and influences, both
musically and aesthetically, while making the case that indie music genres, such as
shoegaze, are important as alternatives to the prescribed characteristics of commercial
The main purpose of this thesis is to document the importance of the shoegazing
band My Bloody Valentine—specifically their groundbreaking album Loveless—through
biographical research, musical analysis, and reception theory in order to discover the
elusive aesthetics of shoegaze and present clues as to how the band created their unique
A Brief History of Punk and Indie
During a 1990 interview in Guitar Player, Johnny Marr, former guitarist for the
English indie band The Smiths, described his notion of what a guitarist’s role in a band
ought to be. As a result, he represented the thoughts of a counterculture devoted to
redefining the values of popular music. His ten ways to avoid becoming a guitar hero, set
up in a ten commandments-like fashion within the article, reflected a trend within this
counterculture of denouncing the spectacle-driven MTV rock that defined a decade of
Table 1: 10 Ways to Avoid Becoming a Guitar Hero
1. Quit a wildly successful band—and turn down offers from other successful bands—
for musical reasons.
2. Avoid solos whenever possible.
3. Play few single-note passages
4. Put songs before showmanship.
5. Don’t clutter your records, even if it means laying out.
6. Be subtle in your innovations: Don’t pose with a four-necked guitar; instead
concentrate on offbeat harmonic ideas, unusual tunings, weirdo chord voicings, and
finely detailed accompaniment.
7. Paint with a feather, not a firehose.
8. Cite unfashionable influences.
9. Violate pop music conventions whenever possible.
10. Denounce guitar heroism loudly and frequently.
While splits within genres of music are not a unique occurrence historically, this split
from the mainstream would eventually encompass many styles of popular music, from
rock to hip-hop to country. The main reason for this split was not so much stylistic
differences, but a protest against an all-powerful music industry that alienated some of its
musicians in its careless quest for profit. Johnny Marr, for instance, went as far as
leaving The Smiths in 1987, a band that may have been “wildly successful” in
underground and college music scenes yet did not come close to the commercial success
of certain MTV rock bands of the 80s.
Marr’s ideas and actions were a reflection of the values of a larger independent
(“indie”) music scene that became a force by the mid-1980s yet had its roots in the punk
movement of the 1970s. The punk movement originated largely in England, yet
eventually had important sectors within the United States. Some even claim that punk
began as early as the mid-1960s in the form of garage bands as a reaction to the
Joe Gore, “Guitar Anti-Hero, Johnny Marr: The Smiths & Beyond.” Guitar Player, (January 1990): 68.
The article is not clear as to whether Marr actually created this list or if it was simply an invention of the
author using Marr’s career as inspiration.
overwhelming popularity of bands such as The Beatles.
Some also frequently cite the
Velvet Underground as an early influence on the punk and indie movements as well for
their dismissal of popular music trends.
The aesthetics of the early punk movement were rooted as much in politics as
they were in music. Some believe that the development of the punk scene in the United
Kingdom was a result of severe economic deterioration in the country.
anarchistic qualities of punk became an extreme criticism of the declining economic
status of the UK during the late 1970s. The musicians that contributed to the punk
movement were generally from a working-class background and were weary of the
conditions in which they lived. This, combined with a seemingly unvarying music scene,
caused them to yearn for something different. As a goal, punks sought to remove
pretentiousness out of rock. While searching for a solution they combined back-to-basics
music philosophies with their radical political ideas. As a result, they created something
unique. Punks believed that songs should be short, aggressive, and harmonically simple
(the I-IV-V progression pervades a large amount of punk music), and that lyrics should
be political and nihilistic (The lyrics to the Sex Pistols’s “Anarchy in the UK,” Table 2, is
a distinct example of this).
Bands such as “The Ramones and the Sex Pistols placed
musical amateurism at the aesthetic core of punk rock.”
They despised “twenty-minute
guitar solos” and the image-based exhibition that had dominated the rock music scene
throughout the 70s and into the 80s.
Themis Chronopoulos, “A Cultural History of Punk, 1964-1996” (master’s thesis, San Jose State
University, 1997), 5.
See “So You Wanna Fake Being an Indie Rock Expert?”
http://www.soyouwanna.com/site/syws/...indierock.html (accessed on February 26, 2006), “The
Velvet Underground” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Velvet_Underground (accessed on
February 26, 2006), and Michael Sandlin, “Velvet Under-Appreciated.” review of “All Yesterday’s Parties:
The Velvet Underground in Print: 1966-71,” by Clinton Heylin. (2005)
http://www.popmatters.com/books/revi...-parties.shtml (accessed on February 26, 2006).
Andy Bennett, “‘Plug in and Play!’ UK ‘Indie-Guitar’ Culture.” In Guitar Cultures, ed. Andy Bennett and
Kevin Dawe. (Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2001), 49.
Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music (Hanover:
Wesleyan University Press, 1993), 14.
Table 2: Lyrics to “Anarchy In The U.K.”
I am an anti-Christ
I am an anarchist,
don't know what I want
but I know how to get it.
I wanna destroy the passer by
'cos I wanna be anarchy,
Ho dogs body
Anarchy for the UK
It's coming sometime and maybe
I give a wrong time stop a traffic line.
Your future dream is a shopping scheme
cause I wanna be anarchy,
It's in the city
How many ways to get what you want
I use the best I use the rest
I use the enemy.
I use anarchy
'cause I wanna be anarchy,
Is this the MPLA
or is this the UDA
or is this the IRA
I thought it was the UK
or just another country
another council tenancy.
Much to the early punk’s disdain, while they were busy creating a new musical
style, they had to consider music business issues as well. One of the bases of their punk
philosophy was a complete rejection of commercial music. Consequently, they had to
discover new ways for promoting and distributing their music, without the use of
corporate enterprises. However, after major labels discovered that the punk scene could
become a commodity, thus generating a profit, they began recruiting punk bands to their
labels. Some important punk bands of the late 70s, such as the Sex Pistols and The
Clash, signed to major labels.
This may have been a positive result for punk as it
helped internationally disseminate this genre of music and bring a larger audience to their
political and musical perspectives. Yet, unfortunately, being signed to a major label and
Copyright 1977 by J. Rotten, G. Matlock, S. Jones, P. Cook
David Hesmondhalgh, “Indie: The Institutional Politics and Aesthetics of a Popular Music Genre” In
Cultural Studies, (January, 1999): 40.
thus supporting the capitalist system was a contradiction to the philosophy of many
punks. This difference of ideas and the mainstream success of the Sex Pistols and The
Clash would ultimately split the punk movement and cause its demise as a trend-setting
type of music; enter postpunk.
In order to combat the oppressive presence of corporate music labels, some punks
began to develop a postpunk philosophy. These punks decided to remain faithful to their
fundamental beliefs and devised new methods to advance their music. While dodging the
force of capitalism they created alternative networks of distribution, achieved a reflexive
understanding of the dynamics of the record industry, extended independent networks of
production and distribution beyond Britain and into Europe and the United States, and
developed an aesthetic based on mobilization and access.
These methods proved
successful for a time; however, the commercial music industry was not without a retort.
The MTV generation was soon to be born in the early 80s and corporations had steadily
been buying out independent radio stations, therefore circumscribing popular music for a
mass audience. This resulted in the steady decline of independent albums making a
significant impact on the pop charts.
In addition to these frustrating struggles, by the mid-80s postpunk was
undergoing an image change as well.
By 1986, post-punk’s status as the most prestigious branch of alternative music in Britain was
under threat. At the same time, the term ‘indie’ was becoming widely used to describe a new
phase in the cultural politics of alternative pop/rock in Britain. Rather than the mélange of
experimental influences covered by the umbrella term ‘post-punk’, ‘indie’ described a narrower
set of sounds and looks. The ‘whiteness’ of the genre was the subject of much music press
comment in the mid-1980s. While many musicians, fans and journalists had increasingly turned
to pop and black musical traditions, such as electro and hip hop, as fresh sources of inspiration in
the early 1980s, indie was constructing a canon of white, underground rock references. The
mainstream pop charts were dominated by funk figures and rhythms, but indie records turned to
‘jangly’ guitars, an emphasis on clever and/or sensitive lyrics inherited from the singer/songwriter
tradition in rock and pop, and minimal focus on the rhythm track. …In terms of presentation, indie
often prided itself on its care over design but set itself against the concentration on ‘image’ in the
pop mainstream: important indie bands, such as the Smiths, refused to put their pictures on record
sleeves. There was a resistance to using promotional videos. And the stage presentation of bands
involved dressing down, a minimum display of musical prowess, and a deliberate muting of
Ibid., 37. Hesmondhalgh summarizes four ways that the post-punks helped develop the independent
The previous quotation opens up a series of issues as to the nature of indie music. One of
the most startling issues is the “whiteness” of the genre. Certainly, the indie music scene,
full of leftist principles, does not consciously discriminate; it does not innately promote
racist tendencies, musically or lyrically, and the fans of indie music are commonly not
racist. Why, then, did the music press of the 1980s make such a big issue out of the racial
makeup of the indie scene? In fairness, did they not comment on the racial makeup of the
hip-hop scene as well? While there does not seem to be much as far as a possible answer
to these questions, at the time hip-hop was becoming a commercially viable genre of
music that MTV and commercial radio stations promoted successfully. The same
corporations that owned the music industry also controlled the media. Therefore, in their
creation of blind appeal for mainstream music, these corporations encouraged their media
outlets to degrade enterprises that sought to provide alternatives to their quest for
dominance over the music industry.
Philosophically, the indie scene promotes independence from corporate music,
artistic creativity, rejection of monetary ends, and a particular style of sound and image.
When the punk movement developed into indie, it did so partly because the three-minute,
aggressive pop songs that had been central to punk philosophy began to wane with the
supporters of the music. The idea of indie music provided a new means for artistic
creativity outside of the mainstream. In contrast to commercial musicians, indie
musicians did not have to work within the boundaries of a predetermined rock song
formula. Indie music became anti-formulaic because fans of the genre desired
individuality in their music, or music for the sake of music, not music created for
financial ends. Indie fans regularly use the term “sellout” to describe an artist that signs
to a major label and crosses over to the greedy capitalist world. This term denotes a
concept in indie philosophy that places true artistic expression on music created solely for
While indie thinking denounces the mainstream music scene’s sound and image,
in its formation process it created its own ideas about what music and its practitioners
should sound and look like. The image aspect of this is easier to describe. Anyone
attending an indie music concert today will notice the performers and audience are
dressed in a particular way. There is an emphasis on wearing unique, vintage clothing—
the type that is usually found in thrift stores.
A tight, twenty-year-old shirt, a pair of
worn jeans or work pants, topped off with combat boots is a good start for either gender.
In any case, the goal for indie kids is to look like they spent a limited amount of money
on their outfits (even when this is not the case) and yet still have enough stylistic
sensibility to work within these constraints. Hairstyles are important as well. The hair of
indie kids often looks unwashed and matted, as if they just got out of bed. The point of
these fashion trends is so that the indie fan appears contrary to what society deems
appropriate and thus, distinctive and “antiestablishment.” This illustration is important
because despite the basic indie notion of individuality, there is a contradiction in that for
acceptance into the camaraderie of the indie scene, the participants have to look and act a
The subject of indie fashion raises a complex gender issue. Again, in attempting
to defy the norm, many male indie fans tend to dress less masculine and look more
effeminate than other men do in society. In the indie scene there seems to be an
unspoken rule about the importance of looking ambiguous in sexual orientation. This
occurrence does not only apply to men. Many indie women also dress less feminine than
their societal counterparts do outside the indie scene. The issue of gender qualities in the
music itself is further complicated. In relation to other types of rock music, the sound of
indie music is usually less masculine. The lyrics of indie are more sentimental and the
music is generally less reflective of male dominance and aggression. Historically,
domination and rule by men has been a foundation of western society. Women have
remained at the fringes, used simply for practical and decorative purposes. What some
call the modernist age, approximately 1450-1950, where ideas mostly moved linearly and
logically, only served to enforce this establishment.
The rise of postmodernism, or the
feminine age, has allowed for innovative methods of analysis and radical movements of
social critique. The indie movement is just one of many postmodern social criticism
techniques. Thus, the music’s feminine qualities are a reflection of this trend.
There may be a connection with the original working-class background of the punk and indie movements
to thrift store shopping.
Jann Pasler, “Postmoderism.” Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy. http://www.grovemusic.com (Accessed
on March 18, 2006).
Although the term indie implies a shortened form of independent, simply being
independent does not necessarily denote indie. While there is certainly a history of
independent record labels spanning back to the early twentieth century, indie developed
as a unique culture by the late 80s and into the 90s. Though surely supportive of
independence from corporate activities, indie is a lifestyle, a set of beliefs and values
comprising an entire identity.
In summing up the spirit of indie philosophy before discussing the shoegazer
scene more specifically, thoughts from a recent dissertation clarify the sometimes-
confusing nature of the indie scene. Wendy Fonarow’s 1999 dissertation undertakes
several issues associated with indie. After spending nearly eighty pages seeking to
describe what indie is, she comes to the conclusion that
indie is…a means of distribution, a genre, an ethos, a style, an aesthetic. There are many indie
fans who listen to dance music, who are not technophobic, who don’t have any particular
proclivities for the 7” format, and who like some main stream chart acts, even admitting they think
they ought not. There is an indie ideology, but defining membership in a community by
adherence to its associated ideological framework results in only the most fully dedicated
members constituting the group allowing highly inflexible ideological positions and clearly
defined boundaries. With even the most cursory examination of the face-to-face activities that
constitute what has been called youth cultures this is undoubtedly not the case. Indie is defined
precisely by the discourse about its boundaries, about what it is and is not, because what it is
This conclusion about what constitutes indie is vague because of the intrinsic
complexities of defining any contemporary movement. It is almost futile to define living
art styles because the moment that an agreed upon definition is reached will also be the
moment that an artist within the movement breaks the rules.
The Dawn of Shoegaze
The series of historical events described up to this point eventually provided the
indie scene with a new type of musician that began to see prominence in London during
the late 1980s—the shoegazer. British music journalists, especially from the magazine
New Musical Express, initially coined the descriptor shoegazer in reference to some
“indie-guitar players [that] often assume a rather static on-stage posture, looking down at
Wendy Fonarow, “The Culture of Participation and the Morality of Aesthetics in British Independent
Music Performances” PhD. Diss., University of California at Los Angeles, (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1999): 118.
their fret boards or the floor.”
The term shoegazer was originally a derogatory one, like
the terms impressionism and baroque, in response to the shoegazer’s apparent lack of
showmanship. However, lack of showmanship, in reference to Johnny Marr’s ten rules
for guitarists, is actually a virtue of the indie scene. Here, again, we see corporate music
critics placing their own manufactured ideas of what music should be on a style that is
foreign to them.
While the term shoegazer was originally a description of an action, it would
ultimately become synonymous with a particular sound as well. The early shoegazers
selected specific elements of rock to develop and sometimes exploit. Effects-laden
guitars that gave the impression of heavy orchestration dominated the music; the lyrics
became more meaningful and sentimental, yet the mixing process deemphasized the
vocals so not even the singer stood out from the rest of the band. The resulting effect was
one of unity. Rather than bands of highlighted individual members, shoegazers sought to
minimize individuality within the resultant music in order to stress the importance of
organic synthesis within the band, thus creating a music that was more personal and
authentic than mainstream rock.
The sounds that the early shoegazer bands created may have been unique, but not
completely. There were several considerable influences on the genre. Two of the most
frequently cited influences are the Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain, both
hailing from Scotland.
Journalists have described the sounds of these bands as
“beautiful, shimmering, swirling…stuff. There are guitars in there somewhere, but
they’re textural, oblivious, environmental; they’ve shed their leadership qualities and
become communal. Meanwhile the rich, emotive voice…flies merrily around the mix,”
and “dark, brooding music, a combination of buoyant pop songcraft and blistering
In stressing the importance of amateurish qualities in the indie music
scene, the guitarist of the Cocteau Twins, Robin Guthrie, describes his experience with
the guitar. He says, “From the time I first started playing, I tried to get away from
making the guitar sound like a guitar. I don’t classify myself as a guitar player, really.
Any internet inquiry into the origins of shoegaze will usually mention these bands.
Steph Paynes, “Robin Guthrie.” Guitar Player. (February, 1991): 25.
James Rotondi, “The Jesus and Mary Chain.” Guitar Player. (July, 1992): 19.
I’m not very good—my fingers don’t work properly.”
William Reid, the guitarist of
The Jesus and Mary Chain has a similar view on the subject. He declares, “You didn’t
need to be a great technician to make a record or to play guitar. You didn’t need to be
Eric Clapton to play. You can just pick it up, and as long as you’ve got an imagination,
you can do okay.”
The attitudes and sounds evident from these bands surely influenced
the early shoegazers. Guthrie’s view on inventing new sound possibilities with the guitar
is especially significant. The Cocteau Twins’s early pieces such as “Blind Dumb Deaf”
and “Sugar Hiccup” and even later pieces such as “Orange Appled” and “Carolyn’s
Fingers” contain common shoegaze traits such as atmospheric guitar qualities and
beautiful vocal melodies. However, their songs stand apart from shoegaze in various
ways. The bass lines, for instance, are more driven and the vocals are unambiguous.
The Jesus and Mary Chain, in comparison with the Cocteau Twins, had a much heavier
and energetic sound. On their album Psychocandy, a particularly important influence on
shoegaze, they used a very harsh, dirty distortion almost suggestive of static.
Cocteau Twins, however, The Jesus and Mary Chain’s vocals were clear and distinct.
While there are surely many more influences on shoegaze, it was important to point out
some of the key bands and elements from which the shoegazers borrowed. Then again,
the root of the inaudible vocal quality of shoegaze is somewhat of a mystery.
Attempting to define a living art form is difficult as the styles are always
changing. In spite of this, now that the original shoegazer movement has settled into its
place in rock history, we can contextualize and discuss it as a genre. Rather than give a
detailed definition of shoegazer music, it works better to describe the specific qualities of
some important shoegazer bands in order to see their common relations. In particular, I
will highlight the music of Chapterhouse, Lush, Ride, Slowdive, and in the subsequent
chapters, My Bloody Valentine, and from their commonalties it may be possible to
understand what shoegaze encompasses.
I couldn’t help but think of The Cure (especially Disintegration) when studying the Cocteau Twins’s
music. The two bands have strikingly similar sound qualities. In reference to shoegaze, Slowdive’s first
album, Just for a Day, is especially reminiscent of this sound, although their vocals are still vaguer.
People sometimes refer to The Jesus and Mary Chain as a noise-pop band.
The album Whirlpool by Chapterhouse resembles the archetype of shoegaze, My
Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, more closely than any other album from the period. Oddly
enough, Chapterhouse released Whirlpool during the summer of 1991 before the release
of Loveless in November. However, My Bloody Valentine released the EPs Glider and
Tremolo in April of 1990 and in February of 1991, respectively, so it is possible that
Chapterhouse was aware of My Bloody Valentine’s new sound exploration. Nonetheless,
the thick, orchestral guitar sound on Whirlpool is astounding. The guitars, obviously an
important element to the band’s sound, are at the forefront of the mix. The singer almost
whispers the words. The drums are not as heavy sounding as most drum parts are in rock
bands—many of the drum parts sound like they are electronic or sequenced. The overall
sound of the album gives the effect of a spacey ambience. If there were a second-place
for albums that characterized shoegaze, Whirlpool would be it, or as one Amazon.com
reviewer put it: “If "Loveless" is the "Sgt. Pepper" of the shoegaze genre, than
"Whirlpool" clearly is its "Pet Sounds."”
Lush’s music sounds similar to their name, the pun obviously intended. Their
“subtle, seductive sound weaves extremes of rawness and fragility into a sprawling
musical mosaic, a paradoxical mixture of ethereally beautiful and brutally atonal guitar
Certainly, this journalist was not referring to Schoenberg when he mentioned
the descriptor atonal; rather he was attempting to describe the atonal results that heavily
distorted guitars loaded with reverb and delay create acoustically. Lush was even
fortunate enough to have Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins, one of the originators of
the ethereal sounding guitar, produce their 1992 album Spooky.
However, some critics
claimed that Guthrie’s production of the album stole from Lush’s creation.
particular, it seems that Guthrie made Lush sound more similar to the Cocteau Twins
than to Lush themselves. Nevertheless, Lush’s vocals are less clear than the Cocteau
Twins’s making them further coordinated with the aesthetics of shoegaze. The
Rick Taylor, “A Celebration of the Possibilities of Sound.” Review of Whirlpool, by Chapterhouse.
3291685-0479105?s=music&v=glance&n=5174 (accessed on February 10, 2006).
Darren Ressler, “Ban the Bland: The Brutal Beauty of Lush.” Guitar Player (June, 1991): 13.
Steven Thomas Erlewine, “Biography.” All Music Guide.
http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p...51u67uq0h0j3T1 (accessed on February 15, 2006).
atmosphere of Spooky is mostly pop-like throughout. The guitarists melt their sound with
high levels of effects such as reverb, chorus, and phase. Although the album has a darker
quality than My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and the bass guitar seems to play a more
important role, the influence of earlier shoegaze albums on Spooky is evident. The
introduction to Lush’s “Fantasy,” for instance, is similar to the introduction to My
Bloody Valentine’s “Soon,” and some of the guitar sounds are curiously redolent of My
Bloody Valentine’s album Isn’t Anything. Lush does, however, by writing memorable
songs similar in texture and ambience, mold the shoegazer sound to their own
Another band to put out a significant shoegazer album prior to My Bloody
Valentine’s Loveless, in particular their 1990 album Nowhere, is Ride. In discussing
Nowhere, one journalist says, “The tempos were less frantic and the moods more dreamy
than in the past. That big guitar wall is still there, but warmer Cocteauesque tones can be
heard echoing on some songs. Keyboards, strings, and other instruments make a
tastefully low-keyed appearance as well.”
Ride’s use of keyboards and strings is
significant. In more current shoegazing circles, these instruments have become
increasingly important. Peculiarly, unlike most shoegazer bands, Ride’s vocals, while
still somewhat submerged in the mix, are comparatively comprehendible. In addition, a
distinct English accent is present—unlike in other English shoegazer bands’s vocals.
What appears to set Ride apart from the rest of the genre are significantly longer
introductions. Their skill at mood setting in these introductions is excellent. Some of the
songs on Nowhere that exhibit lengthy introductions are “Seagull,” a 6:08 song with a
1:14 introduction, “In a Different Place,” a 5:29 song with a 0:55 introduction, and
“Dreams Burn Down,” a 6:06 song with a 1:05 introduction. These songs are also
considerably longer than average pop songs. As the extension and altercation of normal
pop song forms would become gradually more important to certain indie styles—
especially postrock—as the 1990s progressed, Ride were well ahead of their time in this
Some of Ride’s later post-Nowhere work was significant in this matter as well.
Alan Diperna, “Ride: Gorgeous Pop Grunge.” Guitar Player (December 1991): 30.
Postrock is a genre of indie that sought and is seeking to move further away from traditional pop song
forms. In these expanded forms, postrock bands present a strong sense of tension and resolution. Dynamic
contrast is of vital importance. Many times postrock dynamics follow a bell curve approach; beginning soft
and beautiful, building to a grand destructive climax, then returning to a state of normalcy. Much of
Songs such as “Leave Them All Behind,” an 8:17 song, “Ox4,” a 7:03 song, and the epic
instrumental piece “Grasshopper,” a 10:56 song are all rather predictive of later genres
within the sphere of indie. The song “Cool Your Boots,” from their 1992 album Going
Blank Again is also a shoegazing classic.
The next band, Slowdive, like Ride and My Bloody Valentine, was on the
independent label Creation Records. This record label
was strongly linked with the kind of alternative music that the Americans did not take to: their
leading band, Primal Scream, had a dance sound at the time, and became associated with the
androgynous, neo-psychedelic ‘shoe-gazing’ style through the signing and development of bands
such as Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine.
One obvious reason why Americans did not take to bands on Creation Records was that
the Seattle grunge movement was dominating the early 90s music scene in America. The
grunge scene shocked American listeners with a completely new sound for the 90s and
thus abruptly changed the way Americans thought about popular music. The success of
the grunge movement was partly due to alternative rock being able to draw upon heavy
metal and hard rock audiences who had previously resisted the style.
scene was subtler as a style that evolved over many years and required more patience, not
an easy task for the average American listener. Even so, some of Slowdive’s albums,
especially Just for a Day and Souvlaki, are important examples of the shoegazer style.
Generally, the two aforementioned albums are less dependant on distorted guitars than
other shoegazer bands’s work. Slowdive’s music is commonly mellower and more
exposed sounding, while still texturally full as well. Spatial ambience saturates much of
their music. The master architect of ambient music, Brian Eno, even lent his
compositional assistance to Slowdive on a song from Souvlaki called “Sing.”
Ride, Slowdive also composed instrumentals. “Erik’s Song” from Just for a Day is a
postrock is instrumentally based; however, when the voice is present it is either hushed and obscure, as in
the music of Mogwai, or it is used as an instrument, as in the music of Sigur Rós.
Ibid., 48. Early nineties alternative rock was generally considered by Americans to be anything outside
of eighties “hair” bands and heavy metal bands. Like indie, alternative rock musicians sought to denounce
image-based music for something more authentic. Unfortunately, like many movements attempting to do
this, alternative rock created its own set of image rules.
In describing ambient music, Eno explains “An ambience is defined as an atmosphere, or a surrounding
influence: a tint. …Ambient music is intended to induce calm and a space to think. … Ambient music must
be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as
ignorable as it is interesting.” Taken from the liner notes of Ambient 1: Music for Airports.
beautiful example of a rock band creating an orchestral sounding piece. Lastly, in
keeping with the shared traits of shoegaze, Slowdive’s vocals are airy and light. After
Slowdive broke up in 1995,
two members of the band, Neil Halstead and Rachel
Goswell, went on to form a group called Mojave 3—one of the progenitors of an indie
sect called alternative (“alt”) country.
The demise of the first wave of shoegazer music was realized partly when
Creation records soldout to Sony in order to focus on promoting back-to-basics “Brit-
pop” rock bands like Oasis.
The sentiment was that shoegazers were self-reliant and
too pretentious, qualities that proved selling a mass amount of records to be difficult.
Slowdive had to attempt a US tour without sponsorship—an event that proved
My Bloody Valentine also experienced difficulties during their post-
Creation period. Fortunately for them, their 1991 album Loveless became the epitome of
the shoegazer sound—an album that defined the first wave of the genre.
Given the near-fanatical critical reception that has greeted Loveless, My Bloody Valentine’s latest
album, it’s hard to know where the hype ends and well-earned recognition begins. Rolling Stone,
for example, trumpeted that the group has “redefined rock,” calling their music “as ethereal as the
Cocteau Twins and as grindingly discordant as Sonic Youth, yet a quantum leap past both bands.”
Meanwhile, both David Byrne and Brian Eno have declared My Bloody Valentine the most
intriguing new pop band on the scene. Why the fuss? The London-based quartet favors
straightforward rhythms and song structures, their chordal vocabulary relies chiefly on time-
honored chimey open-string strumming, and vocalists/guitarists Kevin Shields and Bilinda
Butcher, bassist Debbie Googe, and drummer/sample-twister Colm O’Ciosoig are hardly riveting
onstage. But My Bloody Valentine’s recent releases…really do sound quite unlike anything else
in pop music.
Each record boasts iconoclastic playing and production details that violate almost all conventional
wisdom about how pop records ought to sound. Barely audible vocals drown in dense washes of
pulsating guitar. Weird phase relationships tease your ear while churning, low-register beating
processes knot your belly. Thanks to Shields’[s] startling whammy bar manipulation, guitar tracks
seem to flutter and wind down without losing the beat. The deep-focus, dream-time music seems
to invite farfetched, atmospheric metaphors: a short-wave transmission from a distant galaxy, a
faded palimpsest barely visible beneath an old painting.
This quotation from 1992 shows that the British indie scene was still important in the
early 90s despite the explosion of American grunge. Although the popularity of shoegaze
Andrew Stevens, “Leave Them All behind - ‘Shoegazing’ and British Indie Music in the 1990s.” 3AM
Music (January, 2003) (also found on the internet at
Hesmondhalgh, see especially pages 45-52.
Joe Gore, “My Bloody Valentine: Kevin Shields Peels Back the Layers of His Sonic Onion.” Guitar
Player (May, 1992): 87-88.
would begin to decline significantly thereafter, it had made its mark on the history of
music as a genre that attempted to redefine the boundaries of rock.
Some of the terms presented in this chapter to describe the shoegazer sound, such
as ethereal, atmospheric, sentimental, organic, and thickly orchestrated textures, are
prominent in Loveless. The soft vocal quality almost condemns the value of the lyrics,
thus removing linguistic meaning out of the words and establishing the voice at the same
level of importance as the other instruments. This use of the voice as an instrument
comes back in later waves of shoegaze—mainly in the work of Sigur Rós.
and equality of the separate parts, again, implies the leftist ideologies that indie musicians
The first wave of shoegazer music was over by the mid-90s, but the appeal of
music influenced by this genre never faded and it continues to thrive to this day. Bands
like Sigur Rós, Mogwai, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, sometimes called postrock
or nugazer bands,
have each developed the genre in unique ways. What remains
constant is the need for sentimental pop music that a small sector of the population can
relate to without having to worry about the inauthenticity that the stranglehold of
corporate interests creates on the music scene. As for the shoegazer’s apparent lack of
showmanship, the shoegazer believes that wasting time on spectacle for the audience and
other extraneous aspects of rock shows detract from the music itself. To the shoegazer,
the music is about the music.
On their 2002 album ( ), the singer of Sigur Ros sings nonsense syllables throughout the entire album,
thus turning his voice into a melody instrument.
I found quite a few mentions of these terms on the internet.
A BIOGRAPHICAL ACCOUNT OF MY BLOODY VALENTINE
My Bloody Valentine’s Pre-Loveless Development
My Bloody Valentine was an indie band based in Britain. Guitarist Kevin Shields
and drummer Colm O’Ciosoig originally formed the group in Dublin, Ireland in 1984,
enlisting the help of vocalist Dave Conway and keyboardist Tina.
Before forming My
Bloody Valentine, Shields was in a number of other bands. Reflecting on his early
musical experiences he explains,
Everyone used to form groups in late 78/79, but they wouldn't actually buy instruments, but they
just put on their jacket. Everyone was doing it and it seemed like it was all the cool people who
would form these groups and I actually was asked to be in an actual group. What all the nerds and
weirdoes actually do, as opposed to the cool people who have the leather jackets and all that. So,
some twelve year old kid asked me to play guitar in his group and I sort of got a guitar a few
months later and we started rehearsing every Sunday. This was about 1980.
Shields would eventually become My Bloody Valentine’s most important song-writing
member. Born in Queens, New York on May 21, 1963, his family would leave the States
and move to Dublin when he was six.
While there are differing accounts of where the band’s name came from, some
believing that the band got its name from the Canadian slasher film of the same name,
Shields himself said the name was suggested by Conway.
It was only a few years later
that they discovered the name came from a “really really crap terrible Canadian film.”
Before spending too much time in Dublin, the group moved to Berlin, opting out of the
I found specific biographical information on My Bloody Valentine at various websites. The most
important resource was www.mybloodyvalentine.net where I found a great deal of data on the band and
links to many biographies of the band. Information on the elusive keyboard player Tina is scant. While
biographical accounts of My Bloody Valentine tell of Dave Conway’s departure from the band, for the last-
nameless Tina, however, there are none. In fact, she is only credited as having been a member of My
Bloody Valentine on their first recording, This is Your Bloody Valentine.
Kevin Shields, interview on @Last TV. November 30, 1998.
http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/press/irish-tv.html (accessed on October 28, 2005).
Kevin Shields, interview on America Online. February 7, 1997.
http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/press/aol-7feb97.html (accessed on October 28, 2005).
usual trek to London that many British Isle bands made. In the band’s defense for
moving to Berlin, Shields recounts that
Our singer lived in Finglas, and Gavin Friday lived in Finglas, and I used to often walk by him.
So, one day I just got the courage to say 'Look we're in a group and have [you] got any advice?'
and he just said 'Get out of Dublin'. That's what he said. At the time, the Virgin Prunes used to do
these mini-tours of Europe - Holland and Germany and stuff. So he just gave us a whole list of
address[es] of people to phone. And one person rang back and offered us a gig in Tilberg in
Holland. So we just emigrated with one gig. We arrived in Tilberg and asked the guy is there
anywhere we can stay, 'cause we left the country forever. The guy freaked out 'cause he felt all of
a sudden responsible and worried. And we just sort of meandered around Europe for about eight
months and then we kind of went to London.
In Berlin, the band released its first recording, an EP titled This is Your Bloody Valentine,
on the record label Tycoon in January of 1985. At this point, the postpunk band The
Birthday Party was apparently a heavy influence on My Bloody Valentine.
In a 1988
interview, Shields affirms the assumption that The Birthday Party was an early influence
on his band. He says, “…we used to be heavier, more from the Birthday Party/Cramps
area. All the[i]r songs are approached differently, I like 'em when we do 'em but then I
Unfortunately, as is the case with many recently formed, struggling rock
bands, this early EP went largely unnoticed. Frustrated in Berlin, the band moved to
London where it added fulltime bassist Debbie Googe to its lineup in order to fill out its
sound. In a rare interview, Googe tells of her haphazard induction into My Bloody
Valentine. She explains,
…I met Colm and Kev first. I met them in April 1985. They had been living in Berlin and were
talking about moving to London, they just happened to ask an ex girlfriend of mine who was
living in Berlin at the time if she knew any bass players (at that time they had a keyboard player
but no bass player....shameful !!), she gave them my phone number and when they arrived here
they gave me a ring and that was it really. I went along to a practice and they never really said
you're in the band they just kept saying 'we're practicing again next week if you want' and then
after a while we went in the studio to do the first ep ('Geek'), so I just sort of assumed I was in by
In December of that year, they released their second EP, simply titled Geek, on the label
Fever. Once again, audiences disappointingly overlooked the effort. In 1986, the band
recorded yet another EP. This one, released in September on Kaleidoscope Sound and
Shields Interview on Irish TV. 1998. http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/press/irish-tv.html
Steven Thomas Erlewine, “Biography.” My Bloody Valentine.
http://www.irishmusiccentral.com/mbv/biography.html (accessed on October 23, 2005).
Pete Melon, Interview with Kevin Shields. Avanti Fanzine. 1989. http://www.creation-
records.com/valentine.html (accessed on October 25, 2005)
Debbie Googe, interview. http://www.creation-records.com/debval.html (accessed on October 27, 2005).
plainly called The New Record by My Bloody Valentine, began to demonstrate My
Bloody Valentine’s interest in the music of the postpunk noise-pop band The Jesus and
By 1987, the band was experiencing much activity. It released an EP on the
Primitives’s label Lazy called Sundae Sunday Smile in February. The singer Dave
Conway then left the band to pursue other interests and was replaced by singer/guitarist
Bilinda Butcher, whose distinct vocal quality ultimately rounded out the band’s final
roster. The band released two more EPs, Strawberry Wine and Ecstacy, as well in August
and November, respectively, though the two recordings would eventually be sold as one
album called Ecstacy and Wine beginning in 1989.
1988 was an extremely significant year for My Bloody Valentine. Most notably,
the band signed with Creation Records and released its first full-length album, Isn’t
Anything, in November. Some reviews of the album *******:
As blurred and ambiguous as its overexposed cover photo, MBV’s first post-metamorphosis long-
player still resonates with frightening, revolutionary sonic invention, in spite of its muffled
production. Ride, Lush, Slowdive, Swervedriver, Pale Saints, et al, would shortly follow in its
Though it's often seen as just a precursor to their magnum opus Loveless, in its own way My
Bloody Valentine's Isn't Anything is nearly as groundbreaking as their 1991 masterpiece. Not only
was it the most lucid, expansive articulation yet of the group's sound, it virtually created the
shoegazing scene and spawned legions of followers. The album's tightly structured songs still
bore traces of My Bloody Valentine's previous incarnation as jangly indie popsters, but Kevin
Shields and company crafted wide-ranging experiments within those confines. "Feed Me With
Your Kiss"'s mix of bruising guitars, drums, and sensual boy-girl vocals define My Bloody
Valentine's signature sound, while "All I Need"'s weightless guitars and vocal melodies melt into a
heady haze. Shields' unique tunings, tremolo, and miking techniques stand out on "You Never
Should" and "Nothing Much to Lose," but Deb Googe's surprisingly funky bassline on "Soft as
Snow (But Warm Inside)" reaffirms that all of the Valentines contributed to their innovative
sound. Indeed, many of Isn't Anything's disturbingly beautiful highlights come from Bilinda
Butcher. On the wrenching "No More Sorry," she sings abstractly pained lyrics like "Your septic
heart and deadly hand/Loved me black and blue," barely audible over a swarm of fragile yet
menacing guitars, while on "Several Girls Galore" she's sexy, yet dazed and distant; it sounds like
she's whispering in your ear outside of a blaring nightclub. The Valentines' dark side is especially
prominent on the album, particularly on "Sueisfine," where the chorus slyly morphs from "Sue is
fine" to "Suicide." Isn't Anything captures My Bloody Valentine's revolutionary style in its
“Fifteen Years Gone By: The Legacy of My Bloody Valentine.” Exclaim.
http://www.exclaim.ca/index.asp?layid=22&csid1=1881 (accessed on October 28, 2005).
infancy and points the way to Loveless, but it's far more than just a dress rehearsal for the band's
moment of greatness.
Creation Records was an important record label in the British independent music
scene of the 1980s. The head of the record company, Alan McGee, even claimed that in
the early 80s he “was sort of inventing indie rock,” although he did not know it at the
Two other My Bloody Valentine EPs came out that year. One, called You Made
Me Realise, was released in August. A review of this EP states,
Following several years of lucklessly searching for their niche, this five-track EP — My Bloody
Valentine’s debut for the then-struggling Creation label — introduced the band’s sudden,
astonishing reinvention as an incomparable collision of merciless guitar squall and hyper-melodic,
disembodied vocal harmonies. The title track’s justly famous middle section of noise crescendo
was reputed to be a mischievous joke.
The other EP, a single version of a track on Isn’t Anything, Feed Me with Your Kiss,
came out in November. By this point, the band’s skill at interlocking noise and beauty
was becoming noticeably apparent; a skill they would spend the next few years perfecting
during the recording of their undisputed masterpiece, Loveless.
The Creation of Loveless
Released in November of 1991, the album Loveless would become the essence of
the shoegazer sound and instantly be hailed as a classic. However, this was not without
consequences. The recording process of the album was long and arduous—an alleged
two and a half years and approximately two hundred and fifty thousand pounds for forty
eight minutes of music—an almost unheard of amount of time and money. My Bloody
Valentine virtually bankrupted Creation Records in the process. The head of the record
company, Alan McGee, broke down several times because of the stress of working with
Heather Phares, Review of Isn’t Anything, by My Bloody Valentine” All Music.
http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p...0:2m9yxdybjol0 (accessed on October 29, 2005)
Paolo Hewitt, Alan McGee and the Story of Creation Records: This Ecstasy Romance Cannot Last.
(London: Mainstream Publishing, 2000), 28.
“Fifteen Years” Exclaim. http://www.exclaim.ca/index.asp?layid=22&csid1=1881
According to Ed Ball, an ex-Creation Records employee, there was
much static between Shields and McGee. He says,
I believe the album title says it all. Loveless. It was basically a battle between Alan and Kevin.
Not a battle as we understand it but it didn’t make sense how they could spend so much time in
studios and show nothing. It didn’t really figure. And Alan would be saying, ‘Well, where is the
record, where is the record?’ And Kevin would be saying, ‘Coming soon.’ And the first single to
come off it was called ‘Soon.’ And then it was, ‘When do I get the album?’ And the next single
was, ‘To Hear Knows When.’ And then when he’d actually got all the tracks done he called the
project Loveless. Really, it was like Alan playing midwife to the work of genius from Kevin
Shields became an almost psychotic perfectionist during the recording. He went through
sixteen sound engineers and gave the most credit to Alan Moulder, an engineer who
would eventually record considerable 1990s acts like The Smashing Pumpkins and Nine
Moulder also engineered Ride’s album Nowhere connecting him further to
shoegaze. Oddly, during the recording process, Shields did not allow the engineers to
hear him or Butcher while they were recording vocal parts.
Secrecy seemed to pervade
the making of Loveless. McGee explains that Shields did not allow him in the studio for
the first two years of the recording—not something your usual creator would do to his or
her benefactor. He says,
…and after two years I phoned him up and I went, ‘Kevin, you’ve got to let me in the studio man.
I’ve nearly paid Ł200,000 for music that I’ve never heard.’ And he used to keep me in the room
outside the studio, and not let me in. And I tried every which way to manoeuvre myself round
him. Eventually I phone him up and I said, ‘You’ve got to let me in the studio man, you’ve just
got to let me in.’ I emotionally blackmailed him. I went, ‘You’re gonna make me bankrupt –
you’re taking the whole label down – you’re so selfish.’ And eventually he didn’t want to but he
let me in.
McGee’s frustration with My Bloody Valentine became obvious. Shortly after the
release of Loveless, he dropped the band from Creation Records.
Paul Lester, “I Lost It.” Guardian Unlimited (March 12, 2004)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/frida...167043,00.html (accessed on November 2,
While researching facts about this album, I came across many differing accounts of exactly how many
sound engineers were used on Loveless. They ranged in number from usually around the mid-teens all the
way up to an unbelievable forty engineers. Rather than attempting the impossible task of contacting Kevin
Shields or his record company to find out the true number of engineers used on the album, I am simply
going to go with the number of engineers listed on the album itself: sixteen. However, upon inquiring
about this dilemma on the mybloodyvalentine.net forum, I received some interesting insight. The first
reply to my question said that Shields only credited the engineers whose work actually ended up on the
final product. Sound good to me.
“Kevin Shields” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Shields (accessed on November 5, 2003)
Kevin Shields’s story on the crises during the making of Loveless, while similar to
McGee’s, has a few differences, mainly in the cost of the album. From a 2004 interview,
after his long disappearance from the public eye, we learn some of what happened during
those dramatic years of making Loveless.
Over the next three years, using 18 engineers in almost as many studios, Shields toiled on the next
giant leap for British guitar music. That giant leap cost a reputed quarter of a million pounds, a
staggering sum for an independent (Oasis had yet to arrive and make McGee rich). It also cost the
label owner his sanity.
"I think his drugs lifestyle was a much bigger part of that," suggests Shields, gesturing around
him. "The fancy hotels - in those days he was living in places like this. You know, he also drove
As Shields points out, 1991 saw not just huge outlays from Creation on Loveless but also on the
label's other key releases of the era such as Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque and Primal
Scream's Screamadelica. The financial price, Shields contends, has been overestimated -
Screamadelica cost Ł130,000, Loveless maybe Ł140,000 - if not the emotional one. "I'm the one,"
he confesses, "who caused the most emotional damage."
This is true, as Creation's boss recalls only too vividly. "Loveless was a factor in my personal
meltdown," McGee tells me a few days after my interview with Shields. Creation, he explains,
dropped My Bloody Valentine after the album's release because he couldn't face working with the
temperamental band-leader again. "It was either him or me," says McGee, who was reduced to
tearfully pleading with the musician to deliver the record before the whole enterprise went
You would never suspect that behind Shields's unassuming exterior lay such a monster. "That,"
says McGee, "is called passive-aggressive." Legend has it that Shields, infuriatingly, would
respond to demands as to when his magnum opus would be finished by blankly reciting My
Bloody Valentine song titles: To Here Knows When. When You Sleep. Sometimes. Soon.
Although McGee blames Shields for his breakdown, Shields’s point about McGee’s
drugs lifestyle is surely a contributing factor. Extensive use of stimulants, especially
McGee’s favorites like cocaine and ecstasy, over a period surely aids in developing
nervous tendencies and eventual breakdowns. Drug lifestyles, like McGee’s, in addition
to extra traumatic experiences ultimately cause serious mental problems, hence, McGee’s
Shields, perhaps by poetic justice, experienced a similar fate. He and his band
may have lost their minds, so to speak, during the endless months of predicaments in the
studio. While many seem to blame the incessant perfectionism of Shields for the
Lester, Guardian, 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/frida...167043,00.html
excessive length of time Loveless took to record, the problematic recording sessions were
not entirely his fault. In Shields’s defense, one journalist describes the recording of the
album as one marred by “so many financial setbacks, studio knockbacks, enforced
sabbaticals and technical disasters that all four band members believed that the malignant
influence of a mysterious, evil karmic jinx was a serious possibility.”
He goes on by
describing Loveless as,
An album whose recording processes proved so tortuously slow that the entire year of 1990 was
dedicated to the recording only of bass lines.
And the longer this agonizing process went on, the more My Bloody Valentine, this most - to use
Kevin Shield's favorite word - bizarre of bands, became the stuff of rumors, intrigue, suspicion,
wide-spread admiration, total plagiarism and, ultimately, unfathomable mystique. Worlds change;
another war breaks out; the Valentines put a second lock on the studio door.
In an earlier interview, Shields seems less apologetic. Although the translated French
causes Shields to sound more arrogant than he probably intended, when the interviewer
asked Shields if he feels responsible for bankrupting the label, Shields, obviously
annoyed by the question, unsympathetically answers,
Why should i feel responsible? If they absolutely want their bands to sign contracts, they have to
assume the consequences. Nobody force[d] them to work with expensive bands. Anyway, I'm
sure that everybody will have the invested money back in the six months. And it's our money that
we have spent, the money our two previous singles had yielded. I don't owe anything to anyone.
We were the first band to really be signed on Creation. Thanks to us, the label has become more
professional, we didn't stop kicking their behind. Before us, they were amateurs. I won't give any
name[s], but some bands that will never sell a record have costed more money than us to Creation.
Especially in the field of the dance music. The label has invested fortunes that it will never get
back. But we, we are profitable.
My Bloody Valentine’s lengthy recording session for Loveless surely sparked rumors that
they may have been in a creative slump, yet from interviews during the making of the
album, it seems that they were working excessively during this period, sometimes to the
point of experiencing severe sleep deprivation. In an interview during the Loveless
recording period, the band members occasionally mention that they have been getting
Kevin: It doesn't get me to me like it used [to] because I make sure I get 4 hours sleep.
David Cavanagh, “3AM Eternal.” Select Magazine (February, 1992)
http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/pre...ect-feb92.html (accessed on November 1, 2005)
Kevin Shields, interview. Les Intockuptibles. http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/press/les-98.html
(accessed on November 3, 2005) I couldn’t find the original text, nor the translator.
…I don't know about pressure, it's just difficult to get through the week with only 2 or 3 hours
sleep, and constantly thinking - not just staying up but actually using your head all the time. But
we end up writing in the studio before we go in. …
Interviewer: So MBV is the sound of the subconscious? Of this 'dream state' that the music press
has referred to? It's strange that a band whose songs are considered so much in a dream state only
get about 3 to 4 hours sleep at night...
(Colm comes in, having waited on and off three hours - and kept missing because he went back
indoors - the night bus before heading home for the usual 3 hours sleep - hence his late arrival.)
While the band may have been exaggerating slightly, lack of sleep can definitely be a
problem when attempting any sort of creativity. Thus, poor work habits may have been a
contributing factor to the album’s extensive recording process.
During the recording of Loveless, My Bloody Valentine released two EPs. These
two records were previews as to what their next full-length album would sound like. The
first EP, Glider, released in April of 1990, was a single for the eventual ultimate track on
Loveless titled “Soon.” By this point, the band was making considerable impressions on
the popular music world. “In fact, regarding "Soon," no less an authority than Brian Eno
said, "It set a new standard for pop. It's the vaguest music ever to have been a hit."”
Their other EP, Tremolo, released in February of 1991, was a single for “To Here Knows
When.” When considering all of the endeavors My Bloody Valentine embarked on
during the Loveless sessions, an easier explanation of some of the ambiguity between
Shields and McGee over the actual cost and recording time of Loveless comes forth. In
the three years between the release of Isn’t Anything and Loveless, My Bloody Valentine
recorded four EPs, two of which were not released, a few videos, and an album. It seems
apparent that McGee is counting all the releases in his tally, while Shields is only
counting the actual cost of Loveless. Not that this idea justifies My Bloody Valentine’s
excessive amount of time spent in the studio, however, this could explain the major
difference in Shields’s and McGee’s totals. As Shields explains,
We never felt we had to live up to anyone's expectations with 'Loveless' except our own. The
reason for the delay was that we made two EP's after 'Tremolo' that we just didn't feel were good
enough, so they were never released. They weren't bad, it's just that they didn't excite us in the
sense that they could make what we did before seem irrelevant. We made them like we'd made all
our previous records, just went into the studio and wrote a lot of stuff really quickly, but that way
Marton Ashton, “My Bloody Valentine.” The Catalogue #67
http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/pre...alogue-67.html (accessed on November 3, 2005)
Hype (August, 1992) http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/index.html (accessed on October 26, 2005)
of working wasn't working anymore.
Basically we'd done everything we could working quickly, making songs up on the spot. We had
to slow down or we start repeating ourselves.
It's true that we've spent over a quarter of a million, but that's been over the last three years,
including the videos, EP's, everything. 'Loveless' cost about Ł100,000 and that's already paid for,
Creation paid for it bit by bit as we went along. As for them being up for sale, they're probably the
successful independent going. They've just done a massive licensing deal with America.
The last part of the previous quote refers to Alan McGee selling Creation Records to
Sony shortly after Loveless.
In conclusion, in regards to the cost of Loveless, it was not the album itself that
cost Creation Records a quarter of a million pounds, it was everything My Bloody
Valentine did from roughly the early part of 1989 through the end of 1991. Shields even
claims that Creation Records treated the band cruelly from the beginning of the recording
process. He says,
Three weeks into making that record, Colm [O'Ciosoig] the drummer, when we were doing the
drum tracks, he was homeless. And we asked Creation Records for a few hundred pounds for
deposit on a flat and they told him to fuck off basically. They got used to us living in squats and
living for free. The only thing I’m pissed off about [chuckles] to be really honest, is the fact that if
you read about Loveless, they talk about the money we spent and how we nearly bankrupted
Creation, where in fact we spent half as much money than was ever claimed. The total figure was
140,000 pounds. That's still a lot of money, but it's not a big deal in the scheme of things. More
importantly, Creation bankrupted us in the first three weeks of making that record by leaving our
drummer homeless. And he had an American girlfriend who was being deported and he just
wanted some help and they wouldn't help him. He had a nervous breakdown and that's why he's
only on three tracks of the album. That's why we programmed everything. We had no money and
no equipment. It took me three months into the record to get a decent [Fender] jaguar guitar. I
was borrowing one from Julian Cope's brother. There was that kind of really imbalanced
situation. I think it's a better record than just to be remembered for costing a lot of money and
nearly bankrupting a label. So, in that respect, I'm not annoyed at all at people who talk about
anything that promotes the music, even though I know most of it's an illusion, because most of
what they talk about isn't true--all the effects and overdubs and studio manipulation, it's just not
true. It was a really simple record.
Shields’s frustration with Loveless being remembered as the album that took so long
record and almost bankrupted its label is obvious even in this quote taken from a 2003
interview. Surely, he has every right to claim that Loveless is so much more than that.
The Stud Brothers, “My Bloody Valentine – The Class of ’91.” Melody Maker
http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/press/mm-2nov91.html (accessed on November, 1991)
Gregg LaGambina, “Kevin Shields, Lost in Translation and a My Bloody Valentine Promise.” Filter
Magazine (Holiday Issue, 2003) http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/pre...holiday03.html (accessed
on November 28, 2005).
The Demise of My Bloody Valentine
Within a day after Creation Records dropped My Bloody Valentine, eleven record
companies offered record deals to the band. Island Records bid the highest and advanced
the band 500,000 pounds in 1992. The band reentered the studio after the Loveless tour
to record a new album, but by this point Shields’s perfectionism became too much.
Besides releasing a cover song in the mid-90s, My Bloody Valentine never released any
new music for Island Records or their fans. Shields turned into a recluse, locking himself
away in his home—the pressure to live up to the legacy of Loveless fueling his own
personal breakdown. The band eventually went defunct—Googe and O’Ciosoig left to
pursue other musical avenues. Shields would only reemerge years later to record new
material for 2003’s Lost in Translation thanks to some coaxing from Brian Reitzell,
drummer for the French electronica band Air. In summing up Shields’s post-Loveless
psychological downfall, Alan McGee describes his genius fairly.
I think Kevin Shields smoked too much. I mean Kevin was getting stranger and stranger, by the
minute, to the point I couldn’t work with him any more. But after he left me I think he had some
sort of nervous breakdown. He built a 16-foot fence round his house so that nobody could get in.
He saw one of his neighbours sleepwalking one early morning in his garden. So he built a huge
fence. Colditz. Round the house. He then sent his sister out to get green barbed wire to put round
the house. He said, ‘You can’t go on holiday until you go and get sandbags.’ So he sandbagged
himself in. And at that point the band left him. …And after that it all got very weird. I think to
this day he still thinks he’s been abducted by aliens. He never went to sleep for about a year.
He obviously can function on a level. He can come, play guitar but I don’t think he’ll ever make
another My Bloody Valentine record ever again.
In America, he’s a legend. …People in America absolutely idolise that guy. Completely. … If I
had to summarise Kevin Shields in one sentence, I’d say ‘Irish as you could possibly ever be, in
the great tradition of the true fucking Irish genius,’ which is a quotation from the bible according
to Shane McGowan. Shields is a true genius. And his vision is so futuristic and so ahead of what
anybody else ever went for. I tell you why he changed. People, after ‘Isn’t Anything’ said you’re
a don, a fucking don. And up to ‘Isn’t Anything’ he was always considered a fucking second-
rater. And he went from being a second-rater to being the first division right, and then it just built
up. And then by the time Loveless came out, he was the greatest. He’s the greatest artist as in
‘artist’ I’ve ever worked with. No doubt about it.
In McGee’s opinion, then, Shields became a casualty of his own delusional narcissism.
While there is probably more to it than that, only Shields truly knows what happened to
him during that traumatic time. In a recent interview, Shields tells of his post-Loveless
I ask Shields whether he secretly relishes his near-mythic status. "No," he replies. He seems to
change his mind. "It's hard to explain. I live so much in my imagination. My version of reality is
so different ... I don't necessarily connect with things. Yes, it is nice."
Is he the 21st-century Syd Barrett, or a Brian Wilson? "I'm crazy," he says, "but I'm not mentally
ill. There's a difference." Reitzell is quick to correct: "He's not clinically crazy." With a grin,
Shields adds: "The doctors haven't got control over me."
But in 1997 he told a website his long absence was due to mental illness. "Ah," he says, "but I
didn't say whose mental illness." He pauses. "The funniest bit was, my brothers' friends were all
going: 'Sorry to hear about Kevin's mental illness.' At that time, we were going through a slightly
estranged phase, like families do. So they'd go, 'Yeah ... ' And that confirmed it."
The only advantage to being considered insane is, Shields says, that "people don't get as angry
with you when you piss them off". Angry, impatient record companies, you mean? He nods and
laughs. "I'm right all the time, you see."
The real reason he's spent the last 12 years behind the scenes, finessing the music of far less
talented groups (Yo La Tengo, Placebo, Joy Zipper) and joining Primal Scream as mixer-cum-
auxiliary live member but producing no new material of his own, is simple: "I lost it. I lost what I
had and I thought, you know what? I'm not going to put a crap record out."
You lost it? "I think everyone does. Everyone has a certain thing and they lose it and they should
move on. But I wasn't ready to move on. I reached a sort of stalemate with myself. I wanted to be
where I used to be and have that powerful, strong sense of direction. But I wasn't inspired the way
I used to be."
From this excerpt, it is obvious that Shields believed not even he could again live up to
the allure of Loveless—at least not in the context of My Bloody Valentine. His
frustrating downfall destroyed any hopes My Bloody Valentine fans had of the band
releasing new material. However, if the band had released new material, an album
perhaps, would it have lived up to the revolutionary Loveless? Optimistically, I would
say yes. Their entire career up to Loveless was an upward emotional and creative climb.
Perhaps they would have gone further up this mountain. If the new material had not
eclipsed Loveless, however, we may not remember them the way we do today. Thus, My
Bloody Valentine left their remarkable album and career to a well-deserved place in
Lester, Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/frida...167043,00.html
AN ANALYSIS OF MY BLOODY VALENTINE’S LOVELESS
To me the way they acted was the way Kevin Shields acted when he was really chasing
something that he couldn’t define, and spending tons of money on it.—Joe Foster, Co-
Founder of Creation Records
The Ambiguous Cover
One of the first things to observe about My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 album
Loveless is the vague artwork on the cover and in the liner notes. In comparison with the
artwork on their previous album, which contains washed out images of the band
members, the artwork on Loveless attempts to represent visually what the listener will
perceive aurally upon hearing the album. It is easy to conclude that the cover photo is an
electric guitar, although it shows only a small area of the instrument, from the bottom of
the neck where it joins the guitar’s body to just below the neck pickup. Upon closer
inspection, however, it appears that there are actually multiple images of guitars layered
on top of each other. While the blurry quality of the picture and the thick layer of fuchsia
coloring on the guitars make it difficult to decipher the types of guitars on the cover, one
guitar, at least, with its unmistakable large white rectangular pickup is a Fender
Jazzmaster. The other guitar that is recognizable is most likely another vintage Fender
guitar, probably a Jaguar or a Stratocaster.
The photo on the back cover, while still super-imposed images of small guitar
sections, is easier to visually comprehend. The boundaries of the guitars are visually
more crisp and in focus. The fuchsia color is still there, yet this time hints of orange and
red compliment it. The blackness of the neck and the design pattern on the guitar’s body
are also more vivid. Finally, the images inside the liner notes, again, of the same section
of guitars, have lost the pinks and reds of the cover art and have gained a light grayish
hue and visual computer effects stereotypical of the early 1990s. It is in these images that
we can clearly see a hand strumming the guitar. The cover images possibly have the
hand in them as well, yet their indistinct quality makes it nearly impossible to tell.
The visual artwork of Loveless brings up several noteworthy points. Most
obviously, there are no pictures of the band members on this album. While their first
album contains washed out pictures of them, which, of course, goes against the idea of
clarity that many pictures of mainstream artists on their albums demonstrate, by the time
they released Loveless, their music and philosophy had progressed to a distinctly higher
place. Following the lead of indie bands like The Smiths, who chose to leave pictures of
themselves out of their record art, like on Meat is Murder, My Bloody Valentine’s
attitude towards music caused them to reconsider putting blatant glamour shots of
themselves on the album, simply for the sake of narcissism and image, for a more
original visual approach. A familiar counter-example of this is the cover of The Beatles’s
Sgt. Pepper’s album. At the center of the image are the four band members surrounded
by important historical figures and celebrities. Apparently, The Beatles considered
themselves significant enough to present themselves as the focal point of these notable
The next idea that the artwork leads us to believe is that the guitar is an essential
element to this album. Not that this is a unique factor among rock bands, rather this
suggests that the band is going to use the guitar in an inventive manner. The blurred, out-
of-focus images parallel the actual sound of the guitar on the album. Not to go into a
significant amount of detail here, as I will discuss the guitar sound on the album
thoroughly throughout this chapter, the distinct guitar work that Kevin Shields produces
on this album would become a fundamental staple of the shoegazer sound.
The final item of note about the artwork on Loveless is that it suggests what types
of instruments were vital to producing this sound. It is safe to assume that fans of this
album, at least the guitarists, headed to vintage guitar shops to buy old Jaguars and
Jazzmasters in the hopes of simulating the special guitar sound of the album. Although,
as many would surely find out, including myself, Shields’s guitar sound is much more
difficult to imitate than it initially seems. As is the case with the indie music scene, it is
highly important to obtain the unique image that vintage instruments give a band. Indie
musicians wanted, and still want for that matter, to appear as if they were protesting the
musical norm. As was mentioned in Chapter 1, the issue of image in indie music
becomes somewhat hypocritical when discussing it in detail, especially when it comes to
fashion. Though indie bands might try to pass themselves off as not caring about their
image, their stylistic decisions and actions imply that they are still concerned about it.
The instrumentation on Loveless consists of voices, both male and female, guitars,
bass, drums, and samplers. The gender makeup of the band is unique among rock music
with two females and two males. Unlike the mainstream music scene, it is more common
to find female musicians in the indie scene.
This is due to the noticeably patriarchal
nature of mainstream rock music. With the exception of the mainstream girl-band
phenomenon, which is in some ways simply a novelty act that can sell records based on
their visual appeal rather than the sound of their music, all male bands have almost
completely dominated mainstream rock music of the past. Indie music, which is in one
way or another a reaction against this corporate, mainstream music scene, tries to
distinguish itself from these traditional stereotypes by objecting to this standard.
From reading the liner notes, it is apparent that guitarist/vocalist Kevin Shields
had the greatest compositional input on the album. With the exception of one song,
Shields wrote or co-wrote the other ten tracks. The co-writing was actually just the lyrics
for “To Here Knows When,” on which vocalist/guitarist Bilinda Butcher gave her
creative input. In addition, Butcher wrote the lyrics of three other songs on the album.
The song that Shields did not write, “Touched,” composed by the drummer, Colm
O’Ciosoig, is a short sampler piece. It is evident then, that Loveless is essentially the
invention of Shields. Somewhere hidden in his timid mind was the difficult and elusive
sound he wanted to attain. He toiled and experimented until he achieved what he and
countless fans considered perfection.
Loveless, as a whole, is a complete idea. The songs flow into and out of one
another as if there were no interruption between them. While there are fraction of a
second breaks between some of the songs, each song at its end usually transforms into the
next one. The song titles may simply be a formality, like the album itself is a sort of rock
This thought is a result of my own observations of the dichotomy between indie and corporate musics.
symphony, each of the songs being a new tracked movement. The production on the
album is such that each of the songs seem to be sonically similar. Distinct sounds as if
the listener is bobbing in a body of water permeated with the hum of airplanes flying in
the sky above abound the aural presence of this album. There are no guitar solos on this
album—no solos of any kind. The guitar itself maintains a thick, orchestral presence
throughout the album. The guitar’s distortion is not a heavy, metal-like distortion; rather
it is a dense, dirty, fuzz-box distortion. The guitar sound is sometimes so abundant that it
drowns out every other instrument, including the voices. The bass lines, with some
exceptions, are nearly impossible to hear. With the exception of occasional flourishes,
they mostly follow the root notes of the chords. The drums, or in some cases sampled
drums, keep a consistent 4/4 rock beat throughout the album, with the snare hits falling
on beats two and four. One of the most fascinating things about Loveless is the role of
the voice. When one listens to rock music, usually there is a strong vocalist presence
with their vocals at the forefront of the mix—lyrics and the clearness of the voice being
of utmost importance. On Loveless this is not the case—far from it. Shields and
especially Butcher sing in whispered, airy tones. The lyrics are nearly incomprehensible
upon merely listening to them. The vocal melodies themselves usually hover around a
few pitches and repeat perpetually.
Loveless is not simply eleven songs thrown together in the studio. It is a concept
album that My Bloody Valentine spent nearly two and a half years in the studio creating.
Again, this amount of time is nearly unheard of for a fifty-minute record. Although
Creation Records did put pressure on the band to finish in the end, they stubbornly
supported the band’s sound exploration knowing that their philanthropy would not be in
vain. Fortunately, Creation Records allowed the band to spend a significant amount of
time assimilating their difficult musical philosophy to tangible sound in order to create
this shoegazing work of art.
The Key Scheme of Loveless
In order to avoid repetitiveness when discussing ideas of texture, form, and sound
on Loveless, factors that I find unique to the album itself, I will only discuss four tracks
on the album in detail—the first, the last, and two from the middle. However, in order to
give a better idea of the overall harmonic structure and unification of the album, I will
present a key scheme here.
Table 3: Loveless’s Main Key Areas
1. “Only Shallow”—G major, however, frequent B-flat-major and F-major chords
suggest borrowing from the parallel minor
Bridge to track 2—G major
2. “Loomer”—G major, also borrows from the parallel minor
3. “Touched”—C major
4. “To Here Knows When”—Ambiguously G major/C major
Bridge to track 5—E major
5. “When You Sleep”—B major
Bridge to track 6—Quartal harmony: notes are G-sharp, A-sharp, C-sharp, D-
6. “I Only Said”—E major/mixolydian
7. “Come in Alone”—F-sharp major
8. “Sometimes”—D major, however, the guitars on the song are slightly sharp
9. “Blown a Wish”—E major
10. “What You Want”—G major
Bridge to track 11—minimalist texture based on the G-major scale
11. “Soon”—F-sharp major, A-major and B-minor chords suggest
borrowing from the parallel minor
The most evident conclusion we can make from this table is that all the songs on Loveless
are in major keys. This helps establish other commonalities throughout the album, such
as an overall optimistic mood despite certain cynical and maniacal elements. In addition,
several of the transitional pieces between the songs suggest a larger thematic plan. The
bridge piece between “Only Shallow” and “Loomer,” for instance, maintains harmonic
stability and creates a skillful allusion between the two songs by altering the atmosphere.
The bridge piece that connects “To Here Knows When” with “When You Sleep” makes
for a more comfortable harmonic shift between the keys of the two songs. My Bloody
Valentine’s somewhat conscious thought process of key schemes becomes even more
apparent when comparing the bridge piece that follows “To Here Knows When” on
Loveless to the one that follows the song on its single Tremolo. The difference between
the two is exactly that—they are completely different because they have alternate
purposes on the two recordings.
The pentatonic subset of notes between “When You Sleep” and “I Only Said,”
provides an ambiguous swell to the album and bridges the two songs together fluidly. In
fact, one could think of “When You Sleep” as an extended buildup of dominant tension
that finally releases when “I Only Said” begins. This idea appears at other points as well,
such as between “Loomer” and “Touched,” and between “Sometimes” and “Blown A
Wish,” with the sharpened D major acting as somewhat of a tendency tone to the
following E major. The bridging idea that follows “What You Want,” rather than setting
up a new harmonic center, curiously introduces an importance of rhythm—a concept that
is imperative to the dance-like character of “Soon.” While I am surely not suggesting
that Loveless is a song cycle due, in part, to the classical connotation of the term, because
of the aforementioned connections and the lack of pauses between the songs, the
possibility that the album has a larger thematic plan becomes more realistic.
Lyrical Issues and the Voice as Instrument
Deciphering the lyrics of My Bloody Valentine is problematic. A basic search of
My Bloody Valentine on the Internet provides numerous lyrics websites. The search will
be frustrated, however, when one finds question marks and dashes throughout lines of
text. Even one of the more official looking My Bloody Valentine sites, To Here Knows
Web, has question marks and words or parts of words in parenthesis, as if they have no
idea what Butcher and Shields are singing.
In the introduction to the lyrics section at
this site, however, Jeff Birgbauer provides some useful insight. He explains,
As most listeners of My Bloody Valentine know, the lyrics are not as important to the sonic
structure of the songs as they are in traditional recording techniques. However, the listener can
gain additional insight into the meaning of a song if they know what the vocalists (Bilinda and/or
Kevin) are actually saying.
These lyrics have been transcribed by listeners, and are the best known representations known to
exist beyond the band themselves. Given this disclaimer, the following lyrics should not be taken
as the "real thing" or the "last word". Use them with discretion only to gain insight into what a
song is about, not for tablature, karaoke, or sing-a-long.
This remark raises an important issue. Most importantly is the significance of lyrics to
the overall philosophical outlook of the band. When My Bloody Valentine was mixing
this album, they conceived the role of the voice to be hushed and ambient, rather than
mixed to be at the focal point like traditional vocals. The previous quote also implies that
My Bloody Valentine wanted to maintain an element of mystery about their lyrics and
thus never officially released them. About their vocal phenomenon, Shields explains,
One thing that tends to make the vocals sound submerged is that, eq-wise, I tend to use a lot of the
noise end of a guitar amp. From that, you get this airy kind of hissy sound all around a lot of the
music. Because that's there, I have a tendency not to make the vocals overly bright, so they don't
seem to stick out. A lot of people might have the vocal and hi-hat at the top end and the guitars
below that, panned out to either side of the vocal, which has a slightly extended high end to make
it more present. I tend to put the guitars in the same stereo image as the vocal, with the vocal
sharing pretty similar frequencies which merges the whole thing quite a bit. People perceive the
vocal as being quiet in the mix, but if you take it out, there's a definite drop in the level of the
With this in mind, the lyrics are not an important aspect of their music, which may
explain why the hypothetical lyrics themselves are not entirely profound. Rather, overall,
the lyrics seem to be about love and loss, perhaps in reflection of the name of the album.
Shields assures us, however, that the title of the album was simply a haphazard decision.
No big reason. I knew people wouldn't be able to pin down any particular meaning from it. Plus
it didn't sound like a miserable record. If it was a really miserable and sad record, calling it
Loveless would've been a bit stupid. The feel of the record has a kind of optimism to it. A lot of
Jeff Birgbauer, http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/lyrics/index.html (accessed on September 13, 2005).
Alan Diperna, “Bloody Guy.” Guitar World (March, 1992)
http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/pre...rld-mar92.html (accessed on September 13, 2005).
the songs are a bit chirpy-chirpy little melodies. But they're not really happy. So it just seems to
suit it, that's all.
To provide an example of the general problem with decoding My Bloody Valentine lyrics
at Internet lyric sites, I will insert the lyrics of “Only Shallow” as they appear at To Here
Table 4: “Only Shallow” Lyrics
Like a pillow
She won't care
As a pillow
Touch her there
Where she won't dare
Like a (royal)
That you grew
She's not sc(ared)
Soft like there's silk
(is a) pillow
Where she won't dare
In the mirror
She's not there
Where she won't care
Gina Harp, “Lush Life—My Bloody Valentine’s Pink Elephants.” Mondo 2000 (August, 1992)
http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/press/mondo2000.html (accessed on September 22, 2005).
Table 4: continued
When one removes the meanings of lyrics from the vocals, the voice simply
becomes another instrument. My Bloody Valentine were pioneers of this practice in the
popular music realm. The lyrics to Loveless are nearly indistinguishable throughout the
album. Eventually, bands like Sigur Rós, whose 2002 album ( ) contains no lyrics
whatsoever, rather the singer sings vocables throughout, would completely remove
linguistic meaning from their music to avoid predetermining the meaning of the songs.
Thus, like absolute music, the meaning lies in the music itself, not the words. Shields
sheds light on this subject. He explains,
We treat the vocals, in a way, like another instrument, without trying to submerge them, or bring
them out. A lot of people go to some effort to make the vocals articulate or heard, we just treat it
like another instrument that has its place on the track.
In a different interview, O’Ciosoig affirms the position of the band’s vocal philosophy.
They are an instrument, basically. They don't seem that quiet to us. What's the point in making
them really loud so everybody else who doesn't listen to music that way can hear them, when we
can hear them fine?
Perhaps the music industry was not fully prepared for this aspect of My Bloody
Valentine’s music for they had major difficulty understanding the concept.
“Only Shallow” is the title of the first song on the album and is 4:17 in length.
After a brief snare fill, the whole band enters, minus voice, with a heavily driven sound.
The guitar riff is almost angrily whining, like a hungry cat waiting to come inside from a
Bilinda Butcher and Kevin Shields, http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/lyr...ss-lyrics.html
(accessed on September 21, 2005)
Danny Housman, “My Bloody Valentine.” Hype (August, 1992)
http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/press/hype-aug92.html (accessed on October 4, 2005).
long day of exploration or like the sound that a stampeding elephant makes. In
discussing how he created that “elephanty, shivering guitar bit,”
That's just two amps facing each other, with tremolo. And the tremolo on each amp is set to a
different rate. There's a mike between the two amps. I did a couple of overdubs of that, then I
reversed it and played it backwards into a sampler. I put them on top of each other so they kind of
Shields’s explanation of how he produced just one riff on the album offers a clue to why
the recording process was so lengthy. His obsession with creating original sounds, for
example experimenting with different amp and microphone positions, is no doubt one of
the causes of the excessive studio time for Loveless.
After the twenty-four second introduction of “Only Shallow,” the soft, airy voice
of Bilinda Butcher enters the mix. The excitement of the introduction calms down as she
sings the words, “sleep like a pillow no one there, where she won’t care anywhere, soft as
a pillow touch her there, where she won't dare somewhere.” Butcher’s singing style on
this first song reflects the words she sings. The light quality of her voice, sung as if she is
lulling a baby to sleep, shows her sense of compassionate musicianship and her ease at
portraying the words in a delicate manner. The introduction theme intersects the verses
and becomes points of repose throughout the song in a rondo-like fashion. There is no
chorus per se in this song, rather a few verses with instrumental breaks in between them.
At about 3:40 into the song, we are deceived into thinking the song is over as the last
chord dies out, yet then, suddenly, a new idea swells out of the decaying sound. From
this point to the end of the piece, a distorted guitar and a synthesizer perform an
atmospheric interlude between the first song and the second. Without a break, this idea
ends and we are plunged into the second song on the album.
As the song that opens Loveless, “Only Shallow” sets the mood of the album
well. Its heavy drumbeat and noisy guitar riff during the instrumental breaks provide a
subtle yet dynamic contrast to the interspersed verses. While its two contrasting sections
suggest to the listener that this album is going to be simultaneously beautiful and heavy,
the most important thing that “Only Shallow” accomplishes is introducing the listener to
a new sound innovation for rock. The initial emphasis on the drums is somewhat
deceiving, for with the exception of the sampled drumbeat that begins “Soon,” the last
song on the album, “Only Shallow” is the only song that begins in this manner. There is,
however, a possible connection to beginning the first and last songs with a short drum
introduction—this may have been a way for My Bloody Valentine to round out the album
and give it a sense of completeness. The difference in the mood-setting effectiveness by
the drum introductions of the first and last songs is substantial. The consecutive four
sixteenth-note snare drum hits that serve as a pickup to the first beat on “Only Shallow”
where the rest of the band enters, sets a rather angry and maniacal tone for the song.
When the guitar riff enters, it only furthers this extreme mood.
Although this musical point is subtle, by the instant of the third verse, when the
band has delivered the dichotomy between the instrumental breaks and the verses several
times, a new barely audible vocal idea from Butcher enters and adds a new layer to the
ambience of the song. This fresh melodic idea soars above the main lyrical line and does
not coincide rhythmically with the verse vocal melody. Rather than singing words here,
she uses vocables such as ooh and ah. Although Butcher sings the main melodies of the
verses, she also uses her voice here.
In addition to simply listening to My Bloody Valentine’s music as a method of
analysis, one can also visually analyze their music as well. At To Here Knows Web, there
is a link to a website called Tremolo
in which one can view several videos from
Loveless. While the songs sound the same, the band provides insight into their image by
displaying the authentic nature of their shoegazing ritual. After carefully watching the
video for “Only Shallow” through a few times, I experienced a feeling of satisfaction.
For about two years now, I have been heavily researching and listening to shoegaze and it
is relieving to know that my passion has not been futile. The video takes place in what
looks to be an abandoned warehouse. The band performs almost indifferently for
themselves and to the emptiness. The video’s images convey a washed out, blurry
quality with grayish lines splattered across the screen reminiscent of a television with bad
reception. At times throughout the video, the picture and audio are out of
synchronization. For instance, at one point we see O’Ciosoig playing along yet he is
playing slower than the music itself. This gives the video a frustrated sense of delay. Of
other interest in the video for this song are the actions and movements, or lack of
movements, of the band members. The movements of Debbie Googe and Colm
O’Ciosoig suggest that they seem more interested in the music than the two guitarists do.
Googe is facedown, swaying, head banging, and bent over her bass for much of the
video. Her straight, shoulder-length hair covers her face, which we get only brief
glimpses of throughout. O’Ciosoig, as is stereotypical with a rock drummer, has no
choice but to move his body. His long hair shifts in front of his face as he bangs his head.
We can see his right leg moving up and down in order to play the kick drum. His arms
move swiftly as he hits his cymbals and snare. His torso leans from side to side and front
to back as he performs his role as the drummer of the band. It is apparently not Googe or
O’Ciosoig, then, which gave My Bloody Valentine the label of a shoegazer band.
Although Googe is staring at her shoes throughout the video, she does not maintain the
static posture that was common with shoegazers. On the other hand, Bilinda Butcher and
Kevin Shields remain markedly more motionless in the video than the other two members
do. Shields, in particular, other than his hands moving to play his guitar, does not move
from his position at all. His feet remain firmly planted on the ground, as if they are stuck
there with glue. He consistently aims his head downward. His face is expressionless.
He almost looks bored like he is simply going through the motions of being in a rock
band. From his demeanor, it would seem as if he does not even like his own band’s
music. Butcher’s movements are also restrained. She maintains a static stance and looks
down at her fret board. While she sings, however, she looks into the camera. Her facial
expression is one of innocence, hopefulness, and longing. She does not exaggerate her
expressions while she sings and her portrayal of the mysterious lyrics is genuine.
Another point of interest in the video for “Only Shallow” is the types of
instruments and equipment the band uses. The stacks of Marshall guitar amplifiers in the
background illustrates that My Bloody Valentine was aiming for a massively loud guitar
sound—again, reaffirming the importance of the guitar’s role in their music. If My
Bloody Valentine were actually performing in that type of setting, the guitars may have
been louder than the drums.
O’Ciosoig is playing on a Premier brand drum set with
two toms, a snare, a kick drum, a high hat, a ride cymbal, and a crash cymbal. Googe is
playing with a pick on what looks to be a Fender bass, probably a Jazz or Precision.
Butcher is playing a Fender Jazzmaster and Shields is playing what looks to be an Ibanez
copy of a Fender Jaguar.
Creating Thick Guitar Sounds without Overdubbing
It is important to note here that critics often accused My Bloody Valentine of a
practice known as overdubbing due to their thickly orchestrated guitar sound. These
criticisms have negative implications for My Bloody Valentine, particularly because it
describes their unique sound as something anyone could do through studio trickery.
Perhaps guitarist critics of Loveless were simply frustrated with trying to mimic My
Bloody Valentine’s guitar sound and felt inclined to reduce their pioneering work to a
simple belittling explanation. In the overdubbing technique, recording engineers layer
multiple instruments over top of each other during the recording process, producing a
particularly full sound. Many are aware of certain albums, such as Siamese Dream by
The Smashing Pumpkins, which exploit the overdubbing technique. The thickness of the
guitar sound on that album, in particular, is astounding. According to Kevin Shields,
however, it was the way he and Butcher played their guitars that produced their wall of
sound, not because of layering. He explains,
People always say, 'Oh, they must have hundreds of guitar overdubs on there.' But there are
actually very few. A lot of the bigness of sound has to do with the fact that I use a lot of open
tunings. A lot of the chord progressions are quite basic, but the open tunings leave a lot of room
for odd variations of a basic chord. The open strings clash against the others in interesting ways.
Then we sing simple melodies over the top. But sometimes what people mistake as lots of guitar
overdubs are just these inversions of the chords. Mixed in with the way I use the tremolo arm,
they create a sort of overdub effect.
As Shields clarified in the previous quote, he used many alternate and open tunings for
his guitar parts on Loveless—one of the various ways he fashioned the uniqueness of the
I know firsthand from seeing bands perform in small settings or at house parties that feature guitarists
using Marshall cabinets at loud volumes completely drown out non-amplified drums. While it is still
possible to hear certain drum timbres in this type setting, especially the unclear remnants of cymbal
crashes, the guitar’s presence is unmistakable.
album. The standard tuning for a guitar is E A D G B E from the lowest pitched string to
highest. While many bands use simple alternate tunings, especially what guitarists call
dropped D, in which the guitarist tunes the lowest E string down a whole step, not many
of them are as complicated as Shields’s. Christopher McClister, who is responsible for
the “tabs” section at To Here Knows Web, gives suggestions as to the alternate tunings for
many of My Bloody Valentine’s songs. On “Only Shallow,” for instance, he suggests the
tuning E B E F# B E—Not too bizarre of a tuning. However, some of McClister’s other
suggestions are a little more complex. His two suggested tunings for “Soon,” for
example, are E E E E B E with a capo at the second fret, or E B D F# B F#. While the
second tuning suggestion for “Soon” is reasonable, the first one is rather peculiar.
Tuning the A and G strings up to E seems like it would be difficult to do without
breaking one. The only reasonable option would be to tune them down a perfect fourth
and a minor third, respectively, but which may create the problem of the stings being too
loose to send a proper vibration to the pickups.
In addition to altered tunings, My Bloody Valentine also used the concept of
volume as an instrument, as implied by G.E. Light, to obtain their signature sound,
especially during live performances.
Apparently, during the band’s performances their
mix was relatively similar to their recorded sound, owing, partly, to Shields’s obsessively
long sound checks. As one concertgoer explains,
Though the lights turned against the audience were blinding throughout most of it, I remember
the image of the drummer, Colm, blazing away at the cymbals with an expression of glee on his
face. If I hadn't seen him, I wouldn't have known he was even playing.
This idea of volume as instrument also has implications on Loveless. While the album
sounds magnificent at any volume, due, in part, to its incredible production value, it
sounds especially good when listened to at ridiculously loud levels.
G.E. Light, “My Bloody Valentine: Only Shallow.” Stylus Magazine (August, 2003)
http://stylusmagazine.com/feature.php?ID=1445 (accessed on September 26, 2005).
“To Here Knows When”
“To Here Knows When” is the title of the fourth and perhaps most aurally
overwhelming and beautiful track on Loveless and is 5:31 in length. The introduction
sets the hazy mood of the piece. Each instrument, minus voice, enters together in a wash
of sound that instantly sends the listener soaring. Shields’s guitar hums like a jet airplane
creating sonic booms as it flies overhead. He creates an impressive Doppler-like sound
effect with his guitar. A synthesized motif, added to this climbing and diving guitar
drone, contributes an ambiguous element to the song. The guitars on this song, as on
much of the album, appear to have heavy effects on them, although, as Shields tells his
critics, they do not. For example, he explains,
There's no chorusing or anything like that. But there's one very definite effect that I do use, and
that's reverse reverb, mostly on a Yamaha SPX90. It inverts a normal reverb envelope without
making the notes backwards. There are certain settings I use that, along with the way I have the
tone of the guitar set up, create a totally melted sort of liquid sound. I don't use any of the
original, dry guitar signal; it's purely the reverb. When I use that sort of effect on guitar, that
means there's one guitar on the track.
In addition to this, the altered tuning of E A D G B D adds to the thick, ambient sound of
the song. At any random point during “To Here Knows When,” the guitars and the mix
in general may sound either murky and dark or brilliant and bright. There does not seem
to be any pattern to this effect. The beat and the rise and fall of this false phase effect do
not synchronize; rather the music simply climbs and plummets randomly. The drums on
the track, barely audible over the wall of guitar sound, do not sound like a real acoustic
drum kit, rather they sound as if Shields and O'Ciosoig synthesized them using a drum
machine. According to To Here Knows Web, My Bloody Valentine sequenced much of
the drum parts on the album. As the site tells,
Most of the drum sounds on 'Loveless' are triggered and sequenced; Colm played either electronic
drums or natural drums on tape triggered to electronic sounds into a computer sequencer. The
drum pattern was then quantized (each trigger was put to the nearest beat) and replayed. Colm's
drum playing is characteristic but usually off-time. The drums on 'Loveless' have Colm's
characteristic playing, but they are all exactly on the beat, re-done by a computer. From an
interview with Kevin Shields: “Actually we started the album with live drums, but Colm got very
ill so we sampled his drums and his rolls. So even when a track is programmed, it has elements of
Evan Olcott and Ezekiel Das, “Frequently Asked Questions.” My Bloody Valentine: To Here Knows Web
http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/faq/index.html (accessed on September 30, 2005)
The bass guitar sounds like it is playing drones below the register of the guitars and adds
to the humming quality of the song.
The form of “To Here Knows When” is introduction, verse, chorus, interlude,
verse, and chorus. While this arrangement is similar to other songs on the album, the
asymmetrical chorus lengths set this song apart from other pop songs. In particular, the
second chorus is unusual in this song. While the first chorus is only twenty seconds long,
the second chorus starts at 2:09 and ends after a seventeen second fade out at 4:51. The
effect of this extra long chorus recalls the repetitive character of minimalist music. The
rhythm of the drums remains constant throughout this chorus. A synthesized melodic
figure repeats incessantly in a high register. Butcher, singing low in her range, repeats
the same brief chorus melody. The altered tunings of the guitars combine to create
mesmerizing drones. Thus, the repetition of the chorus for just over two and a half
minutes provides the listener with the opportunity to lose themselves in the music, similar
to the effects of minimalist music. When asked if he had listened to Philip Glass or Steve
Reich, Shields reported,
After Loveless, a friend of mine called Johnny said did you sample Steve Reich and I said who is
Steve Reich? so he gave me a tape of Steve Reich and Terry Riley and I loved Steve Reich. So
probably yeah, from the minute I hear it it sounded like I'd heard tons before.
Although Shields had apparently not heard of minimalism before creating Loveless, he
seemed to have understood its aesthetic without knowing it and applied it to his band’s
Underneath the thick layer of sound in “To Here Knows When” is a peculiar hum,
almost a low gurgling noise, upon which the remainder of the music rests. The effect is
evocative of the droning noise the wind makes when driving down the highway with the
windows down. “To Here Knows When” is certainly suggestive of an enjoyable
traveling song. The drums, guitars, and voice, all create a sense of forward motion,
especially the high, airplane-like drones that Shields creates on his guitar. As the song
fades out a heavily distorted guitar comes in playing a new idea at 4:47, unrelated to “To
Here Knows When” or the following song. This idea bridges the gap between tracks four
and five on Loveless and contributes to the album’s unification.
Kevin Shields, interview on America Online. (February 7, 1997)
http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/press/aol-7feb97.html (accessed on October 18, 2005)
The video for “To Here Knows When” presents new information about the
instrumentation of the song. Upon a close inspection of the washed out, blurry video, it
appears that Debbie Googe is actually playing guitar on this song. Although it is hard to
decipher through the super-imposed images of the band members in a cloud-like haze, at
a couple points during the video, it is possible to see Googe with a Gretsch guitar slung
over her shoulder suggesting that there is no bass part on this track at all. If this is true,
then it is a highly unusual occurrence in rock. Bass is usually a required element in rock
for it fills out and gives depth to the overall sound. Rarely does one find a song without a
bass part. Despite the possible absence of a bass part, the thick sound of three guitars
coupled with My Bloody Valentine’s unique playing methods still gives the song a
fullness that it would not have otherwise.
The video is a live representation of the cover art on the album. The only
difference is that instead of pinks and reds being the dominant colors, on the video a hazy
white pervades the back and foregrounds. The video opens up with kaleidoscopic type
images of what looks to be Bilinda Butcher spinning around in circles as if on a pottery
wheel. As she spins in front of the blindingly white background, light blues and pinks
tinge her body. When the vocals enter, the kaleidoscope display ends. At this point, we
see the band members heavily clouded and white washed faces and bodies while they
play their guitars. At any given moment, there may be several layers of images fading in
and out of the picture, much like a visual representation would look of the song’s overall
The video also provides information regarding My Bloody Valentine’s unique
sound. It becomes evident while viewing the video that both Butcher and Shields are
holding onto their tremolo bars as they strum their guitars—a highly unusual technique.
This is definitely not a coincidence and instantly sparked my curiosity. I hurried to the
case of my 1966 Fender Jaguar and got it out. After plugging it into my amplifier and
putting the tremolo bar in I began strumming some chords while holding the bar. While
it took a little getting used to in order to play like that, I quickly got the hang of it and
noticed that it gave the guitar a natural flange effect as it made the pitch wobble. The
main purpose of the tremolo bar on guitars, historically, has been to raise or lower the
pitch of a single note or any combination of notes by simply pulling or pushing on the
bar. In other words, lead guitarists mainly use the tremolo bar when they are playing
flashy guitar solos. In indie music, however, as a reaction to the ostentatious guitar hero,
it is extremely rare to hear rock guitar solos. It would seem, then, that indie bands would
have little use for the tremolo bar, other than to create a new method for its use, much
like My Bloody Valentine did. Part of the unique sound on Loveless may have resulted
from this novel playing method. Fortunately, Shields and Butcher did discuss their guitar
techniques in interviews. In one such interview, Shields explains,
It moved us into another dimension really. We didn't have a trem arm until the You Made Me
Realise EP. A friend of mine lent me his Jazzmaster and I started using it initially to simulate
bending notes. It occurred that you could play chords and use the trem arm at the same time,
'cause the arm was so long, and get this amazing sound that wasn't like string bending but was
much better, sort of chord bending! It was a revelation that helped us get away from the Mary
Chain comparisons and gave us this drive to make more music. We felt we'd discovered
something new and original so we wanted to use it a lot.
People make this mistake by thinking we use lots of effects to get our sound. They're always
asking what rack we use or whatever. That sound is purely physical. It's a movement, a manual
moving of the strings. The short travel of the Jazzmaster and Jag trem that gives it that
characteristic sort of upwards drone to the chord. We never pull the trem up, just gently ease it
downwards so you get this drifting upwards until finally the thing's in tune.
Butcher briefly interjects saying,
A hazy feel, sort of hypnotic and free moving.
Shields then continues,
I do feel that, along with the reverse reverb thing was ours, we defined it. The trem's not an effect,
its an emotional thing and using it's as important as what strings or what chords we play. It's part
of the whole feeling, the essence of the song.
When you use a lot of open tunings and you've got strings that are close in terms of their actual
tuning to each other, say you use a drone chord, because of the tension slowly being altered any
movement of the trem arm alters the pitch of each string by different amounts. They travel
differently and that creates a real dissonance, a shaking, a blurring, pulsing effect. When you add
distortion you start to get all the harmonics going against each other too and then suddenly
resolving each other as the trem gets back to balance.
In other words, their innovative use of the tremolo bar allows them to feel the music they
create physically; they alter the pitches of the stings subconsciously. It is a truly organic
way of playing the guitar.
Cliff Jones, “Valentine’s Day” Guitar Magazine http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/press/guitar-
unknown.html (accessed on October 18, 2005)
“I Only Said”
As far as hooks are concerned on Loveless, “I Only Said” probably contains the
most memorable one on the album. It is hard to deny the catchy nature of the siren-like
guitar riff that pervades the track. The riff floats above the remainder of the spacey,
driven sound coming from the rest of the band due to the high register of the notes on the
guitar. To play the riff, I begin on the high E string at the nineteenth fret producing the
note B5. The song is in the key of E, so this high fifth of the key distinctly establishes E.
Then, suddenly, I slide the note down a whole step for a split second to produce the
diatonic neighbor tone A5 only to instantaneously re-slide back up to the fifth. In
essence, this part of the riff is an ornamented B. The second part of the riff mirrors the
first with the exception of the starting note. This part starts on E5, slides down to D5,
and once again slides back up to the E. While it is possible to play this part of the riff on
the first string for it creates a better sense of fluidity, playing it on the second string
makes for a much easier shift. Another way to play the riff is by bending the notes rather
than slurring them, although it is considerably more demanding. We hear the riffs as
such: ABABA/ABABA/etc., with A and B representing the first and second parts
respectively. The manner Shields plays this riff against the chords in the instrumental
section gives the illusion of it crossing over the bar line in a syncopated fashion. Shields
attained the siren sounding guitar riff, again, through his relentless experimentation. As
What that actually is, is a guitar through this strange Seymour Duncan amplifier that's got a
graphic equalizer preamp. I just had 1kHz really overdriven through it. So you get this honky
guitar sound that automatically gives you a wah-wah effect - especially when you use the tremolo
arm. But what really made it sound like some kind of wah pedal was that, after recording it, I was
bounced it to another track through a parametric equalizer. And as I was bouncing, I was chasing
chords and stuff like that, twisting the eq knob in real time.
The vocals on “I Only Said” are as hushed as ever—the words are almost
indistinguishable—with Shields singing solo in an ethereal voice on the track.
vocal melody is simplistic and remains in a medium to high tessitura in Shields’s range.
As far as the form is concerned, it deviates from the normal form of most of the songs on
Without the obtaining of a video bootleg of a live My Bloody Valentine performance, I never would have
guessed Shields was singing on this track.
Loveless by adding a bridge section from 1:48 to 2:09 yet, still, there has not been
anything resembling a standard chorus on the album. An initial reaction to this mystery
is that My Bloody Valentine wanted to rid themselves of any sort of catchy or memorable
choruses in their songs in order to rebel against the mainstream. Standard choruses of
most rock songs, for instance, usually contain the most appealing moments in the song—
the parts that fans get stuck in their heads. Again, Brian Eno’s thoughts on My Bloody
Valentine’s sound come to mind. Thus, My Bloody Valentine, following their indie
roots, created a new anti-rock song form of sorts on Loveless. The lengthy outro section
of “I Only Said,” for instance, like the parallel section of “To Here Knows When” is over
two minutes long, contributing again to the minimalist qualities that thrive on this album.
The texture of “I Only Said” is similar to the rest of the album thus far containing
two guitars, bass, drums, vocals, and random synthesizer parts. The thickness of the
guitar tones is remarkable. At certain points, the rhythm guitar’s effect sounds frustrated
and whining; once again, Butcher and Shields use their tremolo bars to create additional
harmonic tension by delaying the stable pitches of the chords. The random movements
of the pitches provide countless analytical interpretations with each new listening. The
way the airy vocals blend into the mix of “I Only Said” is sheer precision and beauty.
The surrounding result of the mix is reminiscent of the aural effect that standing in the
middle of an orchestra playing with static effects would generate. The twentieth-century
idea of the Sound Mass, as heard in such pieces as Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims
of Hiroshima, comes to mind when listening to the thick wash of ambient notes the
innovative guitar techniques create on this song and on the album in general.
At the end of “What You Want,” there is an extensive transitional piece that
sounds from about 4:18 to 5:33 where the initial drum hits for the last song on Loveless,
“Soon,” begin. This short synthesized piece has a definite minimalist quality to it as the
same two bars of music are repeated continually during the one minute and fifteen second
piece. The sense of harmonic stagnation and drone sometimes associated with minimalist
music saturates the piece. It is a curious piece for the album, due to its length and
content, yet it sets up the most pop-like tune on Loveless well by creating a pedal point-
like tension that resolves when “Soon” begins.
The final and longest song on the album, “Soon,” is probably one of the more
accessible songs on the album due to its poppy beat and vague harmonic progression.
That “Soon” was the first single off Loveless surely has much to do with this. This song
demonstrates a major difference in the standards of single lengths between independent
and non-independent musics. By following corporate rules, radio stations would never
play the almost seven minute long song. Songs on mainstream radio are short—usually
three to four minutes long. Unfortunately, those who hold the reigns of corporate music
think that the attention spans of the masses are insufficient. While this may be true to a
point in our fast-paced society, it does not mean that unimaginative music will satisfy us
Once again, this song contains no chorus. A B A B A B A B A best represents
the form—The A sections being instrumental breaks and the B sections being verses.
Without carefully listening to the timbre of the vocals, at first I thought it was Butcher
singing on this song. However, upon watching the video, it appears that Shields is
actually singing in a high register on this song, much like he does on “I Only Said.” The
bass line for “Soon” stands out when compared to the bass lines on the rest of the album.
After an introduction containing four bars of drums followed by eight bars of the
ambiguously appealing chord progression on guitar, the bass comes in with a highly
motivated eighth-note figure. This bass line adds to the dance-like, determined quality of
the final song on Loveless by contributing perpetual movement.
The video for “Soon” is visually similar to the other videos for this album,
complete with whitewashed, superimposed images of the band playing their instruments.
A major difference, however, is that the video, at 3:15, contains a markedly abridged
version of the song. The reason for the brevity of the video is unclear, as the single of the
song on Glider, at seven minutes in length, is not a radio edit. There are brief sections of
Butcher playfully dancing around minus her guitar—the most movement from any of the
band members throughout the viewing of all the Loveless videos. O’Ciosoig is not
playing his kit; rather he is simply keeping time with a tambourine. In addition to many
other songs on Loveless, My Bloody Valentine sequenced the electronic sounding drums
on this song. Other than that, the video for “Soon” is as vague as the sound of the
album—attempting to represent visually what the band was aiming for sonically. Near
the end of “Soon,” a peculiar thing happens. The song suddenly decreases in volume
creating a sonic shift in the texture. The bass and tambourine drop out leaving the
remnants of voice, guitar, and drums to fade slowly out until the end of the song. When I
first heard this effect, it instantly made me think of the way the song would sound coming
out of a car radio, much like the ending of “Have A Cigar” from Pink Floyd’s album
Wish You Were Here. Comparisons aside, however, this effect is a clever way of
rounding out the album and letting the minimalist ambiguity of the final track fade into
Where Loveless Lies
The discussion of these four songs from Loveless has provided a brief excursion
into the mysterious, complex sound world of My Bloody Valentine. In particular, this
analysis has covered certain musical phenomena, such as form, texture, and sound, which
are significant and unique traits to the album itself. Not only does this album present
common shoegaze attributes such as thickly orchestrated guitar textures and
incomprehensible lyrics, it also presents new ideas of form in pop song writing, such as
the exclusion of solo sections, transitional sections, and emphatic choruses, incorporates
minimalist musical concepts, prophetically demonstrates the use of the voice as
instrument (i.e. the words are highly indecipherable thus removing linguistic meaning
from the lyrics), and innovative electric guitar techniques, such as altered tunings and the
use of the tremolo bar while strumming to give the instrument’s sound an unusual
Doppler-like effect. It is in these ways and more that this album astounded the musical
world of the early 90s and continues to resonate in the ears of a new generation of
LOVELESS AND ITS LEGACY
A decade and a half has passed now since My Bloody Valentine’s culmination of
their musical output—a symphony of beautiful noise. Lyrically ambiguous and sonically
lush, My Bloody Valentine’s exotic world of innovative sound possibilities left us with
an undeniable work of genius: Loveless. Unfortunately, their ultimate album proved to
be their undoing. While some are still waiting for new material from My Bloody
Valentine, it probably will not happen. The band knew they created something
distinctive, something timeless, something that could not be outdone, whether or not they
ever admitted to it. What will follow in this chapter is a series of dissected reviews, both
positive and negative. The main purpose of this is to support my view of the importance
of this album in regards to its unity, innovations, and impact as the most often cited
album containing the characteristics of shoegaze/dream-pop.
Some Official Reviews of Loveless
In a February 1992 New York Times article, writer Jon Pareles makes claims about
the cohesive character of Loveless. He explains,
“Straightforward” may be the last word most listeners would use to describe the band’s current
album “Loveless.” The songs sound molten, edgeless; both the beat and the vocals are inundated
by noise, some of it from guitars, some of it from less definable sources. Within the clouds and
swamps of sound are three-chord rock songs and words sung earnestly by Mr. Shields or
ethereally by Belinda Butcher, but the focus is radically different from most rock music.
By referring to most rock music, he implies that no other band was making music like
My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. While other bands may have attempted to match the
distinct sound of My Bloody Valentine, none of them did it so naturally. Although this
article is a preview for a show My Bloody Valentine gave in New York City, the author
Jon Pareles, “Slightly Skewed Valentine.” New York Times, February 28, 1992, C27.
wrote in an enthusiastic tone. He explains, “My Bloody Valentine is a pioneer of what is
sometimes called dream-pop,” and that “My Bloody Valentine remains more radical and
more disorienting than the bands it has influenced; parts of “Loveless” managed to sound
as if the CD itself has been warped.”
This warped sound contributes to the holistic
quality of Loveless, yet, as we shall see later in this chapter, it would also become
irritating for some listeners. In an earlier New York Times review, a different writer
agrees with Pareles’s claims. It states,
...While most current rock prizes crisply articulated digital sounds and rhymes, My Bloody
Valentine offers pure defiance: songs in which thickly layered guitars and nearly indecipherable
voices add up to a tuneful murk, elusive but memorable...
While warped and tuneful murk may simply be different ways of describing the same
aural phenomenon, each of these writers concur that Loveless contains sounds unlike
anything else in popular music and are ultimately difficult to describe.
Ira Robbins, the Loveless reviewer for Rolling Stone, begins his review by
amplifying the importance of independent music labels, such as Creation Records, by
poking fun at a brooding fictional conglomerate record company. He says,
As the world's record-company giants consolidate into the mythical OmniVox Unicorp, pockets of
independent-label resistance endure, even thrive, on the strength of artistic vision rather than
unlimited capital. Since the mid-Eighties, London's Creation Records has wielded a mighty
influence on the trend-mad taste of young Britons, successfully promoting its characteristic breed
of noisy pop as the introvert's alternative to gregarious dance music.
Of the most important issues Robbins raises in this introductory paragraph, his sentiments
about indie labels being vital to keeping a check on mainstream labels and the
mainstream’s habit of creating uninspired music and bands for the selfish end of
monetary gains is noteworthy. Thus, he implies that music is more honest, to avoid the
descriptors good or band, when the purpose of financial profit is left out of the equation.
Later in the review, Robbins discusses Loveless. About the album he says,
…A challenging storm of bent pitch, undulating volume and fractured tempos, Loveless has a
calm eye at its center, an intimate oasis from which guitarists Bilinda Butcher and Kevin Shields
Unsigned review of Loveless, by My Bloody Valentine. New York Times, January, 1, 1992.
http://www.buy.com/retail/product.as...9&PageFormat=7 (accessed on December
Ira Robbins, review of Loveless, by My Bloody Valentine. Rolling Stone (March 5, 1992)
http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/...4/rid/5941869/ (accessed on
February 23, 2006).
gently breathe pretty tunes into the thick, sweet waves of droning distortion. Despite the record's
intense ability to disorient – this is real do-not-adjust-your-set stuff – the effect is strangely
uplifting. Loveless oozes a sonic balm that first embraces and then softly pulverizes the frantic
stress of life.
Shields's songs are strong and catchy enough to be stripped down without falling apart. Under his
production guidance, the group washes them in layers of warped harmonic guitar noise and
sampled orchestra, keeping the lush sound moving around an echoey cavern filled with fog. The
surges of Loveless – in songs like "Only Shallow," "When You Sleep," "Come in Alone" and
"Soon" – send the listener falling weightlessly through space, a fantastic journey of sudden
perspective shifts and jagged audio asteroids. In My Bloody Valentine's magical kingdom,
cacophony is the mind-altering path to beauty.
In this excerpt, Robbins, like other writers, reaffirms that Loveless is difficult to describe
without the use of flowery writing. While others might disagree, this type of writing is
highly phenomenological in nature. This is one of the reasons why phenomenological
analysis or experiential reflection in popular music writing is vital. More importantly, as
we shall see later in this chapter, it allows for the analysis and discussion of the writings
of amateur music critics. In summing up Robbins’s review, he implies in his line about
“the surges of Loveless” that he believes parts of the album stand out to him more than
others. Despite this implied opinion, he does not negatively criticize the album in any
way, knowing, even in 1992, that Loveless was an eminent musical hallmark beyond
Sticking with Rolling Stone, another reviewer, Don McLeese wrote a review of a
live My Bloody Valentine performance from the Loveless era for the magazine. While a
live performance analysis of the band might make up another thesis chapter, it is
nonetheless fascinating to hear about My Bloody Valentine’s live aura. About their
1992 Austin, Texas show, McLeese writes,
After a five-minute barrage of feedback strum climaxed My Bloody Valentine's performance, the
pair of good 'ol boys working back-gate security pronounced the band the loudest and worst they'd
ever heard. In rock, what goes around comes around, though not necessarily in a manner designed
to please earlier generations. Where punk was supposed to spell the death of the guitar hero, it has
belatedly produced a mutant strain - one that's in gloriously high-decibel evidence on the current
tour pairing Britain's My Bloody Valentine and Massachusetts's Dinosaur Jr.
Masterminded by guitarist Kevin Shields, the two-man, two-woman Valentine turned ambient
guitar into a force field of sound - New Age repetitions to rattle the teeth of the deaf. Even more
than on the record, the band made melody subliminal and vocals an indecipherable element of the
mix, distilling its sound into a warped drone of controlled chaos (like the Jesus and Mary Chain
with its batteries running down). By the time Shields said good night - the first words to the
audience by any member of the band - no one could hear him. …
This review is intriguing because it describes things that one would not know simply
listening to the album. It affirms My Bloody Valentine’s shy shoegazer stage presence
and explains the importance of dynamic intensity to their unique sound.
As the magazine that originally presented the term shoegaze, the British
publication New Musical Express was with the scene from its inception. Loveless
reviewer for the magazine, Dele Fadele, begins his article by creating an analogy of My
Bloody Valentine returning as the leaders of the shoegazing scene. He writes,
Recently, some deep-sea divers stumbled on an underground cave thousands of feet below sea
level. Stalagmites, stalactites and mini-icicles greeted their brave entrance, almost too beautiful to
behold. Once their dazzled eyes adjusted to the scene, however, they noticed intricate drawings of
animals on the cave walls which, presumably, had been there years before the Ice Age, 200,000
years before Christ.
Keeping with a comparable tone, later he says,
...“Loveless" fires a silver-coated bullet into the future, daring all-comers to try and recreate its
mixture of moods, feelings, emotion, styles and, yes, innovations.
The challenging thing about MBV is the way they force you to trip over yourself with mixed
metaphors and, worse, when trying to quantify them with language. The frustrating thing is that
they have no obvious information -political or otherwise - to impart. Kevin Shields and Bilinda are
too busy serenading each other about private matters to let the world in on their sometimes
lovelorn, sometimes suicidal, always sick words. You just hear echoes of words buried beneath
monolithic obelisks of noises and silences, melodies and pummelled rhythms.
This is perhaps intentional. Maybe Kevin is reacting against a literary Irish heritage, perched
above his head like the Sword of Damocles, by keeping his words to himself. But in times when
children of conscientious objectors are forced to wear burning rubber tyres in black-on-black
struggles in South Africa, when unionisation - which was hard-sweated and fought for - is being
outlawed in humane Britain, My Bloody Valentine are vaguely saying f---all and encouraging
others to follow suit. They maybe supreme poets of sound, the most inspired venturers beyond the
precipice since Sonic Youth, but they still make you feel the same apprehension most people feel
when their plane takes off, the same emptiness.
Most of the rest of this review contains Fadele’s track-by-track reaction to the album. He
does, however, sum up his response to Loveless as a whole, giving it an eight out of ten.
Don McLeese, review of concert performance by My Bloody Valentine, Liberty Lunch, Austin. Rolling
Stone (April 2, 1992) http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/press/rs-2apr92.html (accessed on February 23,
Dele Fadele, review of Loveless, by My Bloody Valentine, New Musical Express (November 9, 1991)
http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/pre...-9nov91-2.html (accessed on November 11, 2005).
He writes, “"Loveless" ups the ante, and, however decadent one might find the idea of
elevating other human beings to deities, My Bloody Valentine, failings and all, deserve
more than your respect.”
Mainly known for his work in New York City’s popular newspaper The Village
Voice, Robert Christgau is an important music critic. Giving Loveless an overall A-, he
stealthily admits in his review of the album that it did not overly impress him at first. He
If you believe the true sound of life on planet earth is now worse than bombs bursting midair or
runaway trains--more in the direction of scalpel against bone, or the proverbial giant piece of chalk
and accoutrements--this CD transfigures the music of our sphere. Some may cringe at the
grotesque distortions they extract from their guitars, others at the soprano murmurs that provide
theoretical relief. I didn't much go for either myself. But after suitable suffering and peer support, I
learned. In the destructive elements immerse.
In relating to Christgau’s feelings about Loveless, I had a similar response due to the
album’s unexpected sound. Although, in contrast, my initial listening of the album was a
good thirteen years after its release, I understood its significance after a time when
realizing that no other album to this day has matched the brilliant effect of it.
In a unique article on shoegaze for 3:AM Magazine, Andrew Stevens upholds My
Bloody Valentine’s omnipotent status in the shoegazing scene. While discussing
Loveless he explains,
In 1991, Loveless by My Bloody Valentine became the industry standard for shoegazers and
provided its zenith in terms of artistic credibility. Beset by problems emanating from periods of
lethargy and perfectionism in the studio, the album attracted publicity merely on the strength of
the delay of its release, although a decade on the wait appears to have been worth it as it is
frequently voted as a 'classic album.'
Again, Stevens, like many other critics, considers Loveless to be at the pinnacle of its
Robert Christgau, review of Loveless, by My Bloody Valentine, Consumer Guide Reviews.
http://www.robertchristgau.com/get_a...oody+valentine (accessed on January 12,
Andrew Stevens, “Leave Them All Behind – ‘Shoegazing’ and British Indie Music in the 1990s.” 3AM
Magazine. http://www.3ammagazine.com/musicarch...hoegazing.html (accessed on
November 22, 2005).
Reviews from Amazon.com
Amazon.com contains some of the best reviews of Loveless that I have seen.
What is more exciting than that, of course, is that Amazon.com allows regular, everyday
customers the opportunity to have their voices heard as music critics. While it is obvious
why only writers with expertise in music and criticism write for big publications, it can
be relieving to hear what the public has to say about a particular band or album. On the
day that I accessed Amazon.com for this paragraph, there were an astonishing 364
customer reviews of Loveless amounting to an average review of four and a half stars out
The negative customer reviews, in general, seem to miss the point of the album or
place it completely out of context. One such reviewer that puts the album out of context
says, “Of course, Sigur Ros do the same thing. But they do it hell of a lot better than
Firstly, comparing a band that released its last record in 1991 with a band that
is currently active in 2006 is fallacious, unless citing them as an influence. Granted Sigur
Rós is an amazing band (I’ve seen them live three times), however, the possibility exists
that without the pioneering work of bands like My Bloody Valentine, current bands that
create lush orchestral soundscapes may have a perceptibly different sound.
In another negative review, the reviewer states “…that will be your reaction to
this cd. it sounds like a warped vinyl lp stuck in a groove.”
Clearly referring to the to
the production value of Loveless, this reviewer thinks there is something wrong with the
overall sound of the record. The reviewer obviously missed the point of the record; it is
supposed to sound like that. The belief that My Bloody Valentine would have spent such
a great deal of time in the studio only to release an album they did not approve of is
Alex Tiuniaev, “I’m sure this one will enrage the fans.” review of Loveless, by My Bloody Valentine,
Amazon.com: Reviews for Loveless. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-
reviews.sort%5Fby=-SubmissionDate&n=5174 (accessed on February 22, 2006).
Grew up in the 1960s, “There’s something wrong with this cd…” review of Loveless, by My Bloody
Valentine, Amazon.com: Reviews for Loveless. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-
reviews.sort%5Fby=-SubmissionDate&n=5174&s=music&customer-reviews.start=51 (accessed on
February 22, 2006).
Still another negative reviewer sarcastically suggests,
Wow!!! This album is so mindblowing -- I mean layering hundreds of guitars -- wow, what a
novel idea!!! And its so critically acclaimed -- I guess I'd better give it five stars!!! I mean, every
second I listen to it my whole body shakes in glorious orgasm!!! Oh God! ...I'm shaking right
As was mentioned in the previous chapter, many critics of Loveless mistook Shields’s
guitar sounds as the result of obsessive overdubbing. As Shields clarified, however, it
was not simply studio trickery—it was the novel guitar techniques he used that created
the massive guitar sound on the album.
In a more well thought out negative review, the reviewer, even admitting that he
does not “get it,” still misses many important points about the album. Using an
exaggerated tone, the reviewer, for instance, says “Sonically, I find Loveless to be the
most gut-wrenching horrific unatractive [sic] pile of terrible sounds that I have ever
experieneced [sic],” and “The biggest issue with the music (as with much popular music
that uses distorted guitars) is that one of the key elements of music is all but ignored:
dynamics. There is only one dynamic in Loveless: painfully loud.”
While a superficial
listening of the album may suggest to a novice listener that only one dynamic, loud,
permeates the entire album, My Bloody Valentine’s dynamic changes are subtle and
require greater patience in the listener in order to understand their effect. In order to
prove that there are dynamic contrasts on Loveless, I have created a table that maps out
these subtle differences. Keep in mind that all the dynamic markings I have chosen are
N. Wilson, “Yet another reviewer fakes an orgasm.” review of Loveless, by My Bloody Valentine,
Amazon.com: Reviews for Loveless. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-
reviews.sort%5Fby=-SubmissionDate&n=5174&s=music&customer-reviews.start=61 (accessed on
February 22, 2006).
Galikai, “Quite possibly the worst album I’ve ever heard.” review of Loveless, by My Bloody Valentine,
Amazon.com: Reviews for Loveless. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-
reviews.sort%5Fby=-SubmissionDate&n=5174&s=music&customer-reviews.start=71 (accessed on
February 22, 2006).
Table 5: Dynamic Contrasts on Loveless
1. “Only Shallow”
Bridge to track 2—mezzo piano
Verses—between mezzo forte and mezzo piano
A section—mezzo forte
B section—mezzo forte
C section—mezzo piano
B’ section—mezzo piano
4. “To Here Knows When”
Outro—gradual decrescendo towards the end of final chorus
Bridge to track 5—mezzo piano
5. “When You Sleep”
Bridge to track 6—mezzo forte
6. “I Only Said”
Outro—fortissimo, gradual decrescendo near song’s end
7. “Come in Alone”
Introduction/Verses/Breaks—mezzo piano, very gradual crescendo throughout
song to mezzo forte
Table 5: continued
9. “Blown a Wish”
Outro—forte—gradual crescendo, never reaches fortissimo
10. “What You Want”
Bridge to track 11—between mezzo forte and mezzo piano
Outro—mezzo forte, sudden dynamic shift at 6:38 to piano with a fade out.
Granted many of the songs on Loveless are loud and not something one’s Grandma would
listen to, however, it is important to remember that dynamics are not simply loud and
quiet. There are varying degrees of volume possibilities and My Bloody Valentine
clearly did not use only one dynamic level on Loveless. As far as this reviewer’s other
humorously overstated comment I highlighted, I am sure the reviewer has heard worse.
To the reviewer’s credit, nevertheless, Shields mentioned at one point that if he made
another My Bloody Valentine album, the band would do more with dynamics.
The positive customer reviews on Amazon.com far outnumber the negative ones.
While it is not necessary to mention all of these reviews, many of them exhibit similar
qualities and thoughts. For example, many mention the greatness of the album, that the
album is indescribable, that the album is the sound of the heavens, that it is one of the
most influential albums ever released, that it is not from this world, that it is emotionally
heavy and musically perfect, that the album is way ahead of its time, that we may never
truly understand what Kevin Shields was trying to accomplish, and that Loveless is an
absolute masterpiece. The amount of people that this album has positively affected is
quite astounding. The beautiful thing about this album is that it has changed so many
people’s lives and caused them to think differently about music and music’s possibilities.
It has helped people transcend their natural lives to something beyond their expectations.
Although this thesis has just been another person’s take on an album that so many have
said and thought so much about, I hope those that love Loveless and much as I do will
find something in this work that they have not thought of before, thus, giving them a
better understanding of My Bloody Valentine’s vision.
In closing, Douglas Wolk lends his proficiency as the official reviewer of the
album for Amazon.com. In his beautifully written reflection, he says,
My Bloody Valentine's entire career has been aiming toward the perfect guitar noise that Kevin
Shields has in his head: a pure, warm, androgynous but deeply sexual rush of sound. Loveless is
overwhelming, with Shields and Bilinda Butcher's guitars and voices blending into each other
until they become a distant orchestra, the rhythm section striding in majestic lockstep, and
occasional bursts of dance rhythms (as on the single "Soon") buoying the live instruments' warp
and drift. Furiously loud but seductive rather than aggressive, the album flows like a lava stream
from one track into another, subsuming everything in the mix into its blissful roar, and pulsing like
a lover's body.
In wrapping up the effect Loveless has on the mind and body, Wolk’s description of the
album is one of the best I have come across.
While Loveless may have received unanimously positive reviews upon its release,
it failed to make a significant impact in record sales, especially in the United States. Alan
McGee claims that the album initially “did about 100,000 over there.”
indie label selling 100,000 records in America or anywhere for that matter is quite
fantastic, however, Loveless did have major distribution in the States. My Bloody
Valentine’s American label, Sire/Warner Brothers, was surely expecting the album to
make a larger impression than it did. What we must take into account, of course, was a
1991 event that no one in the music industry was expecting—mainly, the explosion of the
Seattle grunge scene. Obviously, the bellwether of this scene was Nirvana. My Bloody
Valentine released their seminal work in the colossal wake of Nevermind—Nirvana’s
Douglas Wolk, review of Loveless, by My Bloody Valentine, Amazon.
on February 22, 2006).
Paolo Hewitt, Alan McGee & The Story of Creation Records: This Ecstasy Romance Cannot Last.
(London: Mainstream, 2000) 120.
multi-platinum chart-topping album that would ultimately abolish 80s mainstream rock
and cast a giant shadow over the rock music of the 90s. Nevertheless, while the masses
instantly felt Nirvana’s influence, the grunge scene did not have a lengthy duration. Kurt
Cobain’s dying wish to burn out rather than fade away may have come true. Despite the
magnitude of Nevermind, we realize it was a product of its time. The ageless quality of
Loveless, however, has caused a new generation to discover the album and grasp its
It is certain that many early shoegazer bands, like My Bloody Valentine, would
probably have objected to the descriptor shoegaze for describing their sound.
Unfortunately, our obsession with categorization causes us to lump similar groups and
aesthetics into particular categories. While many bands today devotedly self-apply the
term shoegaze when explaining their sound, those original shoegazer bands were not
simply trying to fit into a specific sound ideal. As is the case with most unknowing
creators of new genres and styles throughout the history of music, shoegazers were
creating their sounds well before any music critic was able to apply stylizing and/or witty
terms to their music. Kevin Shields, when questioned about the terms shoegaze and
dreampop in an interview, said, “Don’t blame us for what the press creates!”
these terms were simply an alternative way that the music press chose to describe those
bands of the early-90s that continued the psychedelic tradition of music in one way or
another. While drug use has always been an issue in rock music, there is definitely a
specific type of drug that we associate with bands that create music so in touch with the
subconscious. Scores of musicians and bands that present ideas of surrealism in their
music have used mind-altering hallucinogens such as LSD, mushrooms (psilocybin), and
marijuana. In reference to drugs and My Bloody Valentine’s music, one comedic
NEVER GO through customs with a My Bloody Valentine record. It sends the sniffer dogs
barmy. Well, not quite, but certainly MBV's music often gets discussed in terms that wouldn't be
out of place in a GCSE Chemistry class. My Bloody Valentine's sclerotic distortions and 'off
your face' ambience are bound to lead to insinuations of chemically heightened awareness. Or if
you prefer, anyone who makes records this bonkers must be taking wagon loads of drugs.
Shields, Interview on AOL.
Stuart Maconie, “The Artery of Noise.” New Musical Express (April 21, 1990)
http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net/press/nme-21apr90.html (accessed on March 22, 2006)
As I alluded to in the opening section of this thesis, it was my band’s use of
drugs that contributed to our hypnotic stillness while performing. Additionally, the use
of lots of effects pedals, which causes a guitarist to gaze downwards, or simply having a
shyness and/or an aversion to performing contributes some supplementary reasons as to
why the mysterious shoegazing ritual transpired. Some combination of the three above-
mentioned reasons for shoegazing is probably where the root of this performance
My Bloody Valentine began their career like many bands do, struggling with their
influences and fledgling musical ideas, dreaming of creating a mass appeal for their
music. They paid their dues by making a few unsuccessful EPs and playing some
meagerly attended shows. They had to deal with members leaving the band to pursue
other interests. They went through the difficult process of trying to find a new singer that
could fit in well with their sound. While many bands may have given up by this point,
My Bloody Valentine kept struggling and eventually persevered. They signed with one
of the most important indie record labels of the 1980s in London. Their following
increased significantly by the end of the decade. Their three endless years of recording
Loveless only furthered their appeal as hoards of devoted fans eagerly awaited their new
The creation of Loveless was undoubtedly a unique occurrence in the history of
recording. While Shields and McGee may have differing accounts of the amount of time
and money the album took to record, what is important is that the record was
completed—something surely remarkable given Shields’s (and McGee’s) ensuing mental
downfall. During this time, My Bloody Valentine demonstrated flawlessly that the
application of mental abstraction, especially from a perfectionist, to sound is an arduous
Loveless itself ties together the aesthetics of noise and beauty into one concrete
statement. It presents the vexing peculiarities of dreams in a musical format so that those
who truly understand its meaning may experience a sort of waking lucidity. When we
dream, we face the unknown depths of the mind through vague images and indescribable
encounters. If ever there were a perfect soundtrack for our dreams, it would be Loveless.
With these thoughts in mind, My Bloody Valentine’s long recording process is not at all
that extraordinary. If anything, their commitment to their indefinable dreamlike art
should be lauded.
As the most often cited shoegazing masterpiece, Loveless has made a significant
imprint on the history of popular music. With a sound that many have tried to imitate
unsuccessfully, My Bloody Valentine has risen to a cult-like status owed in part to their
decisive work, innovative techniques, and mysterious disappearance.
All Music Guide. http://www.allmusic.com
Bennett, Andy. “‘Plug in and Play!’ UK ‘Indie-Guitar’ Culture.” In Guitar Cultures.
Edited by Andy Bennett and Kevin Dawe. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2001. 45-61
Berger, Harris M. Metal, Rock, and Jazz: Perception and the Phenomenology of Musical
Experience. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1999.
Birgbauer, Jeff. My Bloody Valentine: To Here Knows Web.
Christgau, Robert. Review of Loveless, by My Bloody Valentine. Consumer Guide
Chronopoulos, Themis. “A Cultural History of Punk, 1964-1996.” master’s thesis, San
Jose State University, 1997.
Covach, John. Editor. Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical Analysis. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1997.
Creation Records. Official Site. http://www.creation-records.com
Diperna, Alan. “Bloody Guy.” Guitar World. March, 1992.
---. “Ride: Gorgeous Pop Grunge.” Guitar Player 25/12, 1991.
Ferrara, Lawrence. “Phenomenology as a Tool for Musical Analysis.” The Musical
Quarterly 70/3, 1984. 355-373.
---. Philosophy and the Analysis of Music: Bridges to Musical Sound, Form, and
Reference. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.
Fonarow, Wendy. The Culture of Participation and the Morality of Aesthetics in British
Independent Music Performances. Ph.D. dissertation. Ann Arbor: UMI Company,
Geertz, Clifford. “Thick Description: Toward and Interpretive Theory of Culture.” In
The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973. 3-32.
Gore, Joe. “Guitar Anti-Hero, Johnny Marr: The Smiths & Beyond.” Guitar Player 24/1,
---. “The Savage Beauty of My Bloody Valentine.” Guitar Player 26/5, 1992. 86-90,
Harp, Gina. “Lush Life—My Bloody Valentine’s Pink Elephants.” Mondo 2000.
Hesmondhalgh, David. “Indie: The Institutional Politics and Aesthetics of a Popular
Music Genre.” Cultural Studies 13/1, 1999. 34-61.
Hicks, Michael. Sixties Rock: Garage, Psychedelic, and Other Satisfactions. Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Housman, Danny. “My Bloody Valentine.” In Hype. August, 1992.
Irish Music Central. http://www.irishmusiccentral.com
Jones, Cliff. “Valentine’s Day” In Guitar Magazine.
Lester, Paul. “I Lost It.” Guardian Unlimited. March 12, 2004.
Light, G.E. “My Bloody Valentine: Only Shallow.” Stylus Magazine. August, 2003.
Moore, Allan F. The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Olcott, Evan and Ezekiel Das, “Frequently Asked Questions.” My Bloody Valentine: To
Here Knows Web. http://www.mybloodyvalentine.net
Pareles, Jon. “Slightly Skewed Valentine.” New York Times, February 28, 1992, C27.
Paynes, Steph. “Robin Guthrie.” Guitar Player 25/2, 1991. 25-26.
Ressler, Darren. “Ban the Bland: The Brutal Beauty of Lush.” Guitar Player 25/6, 1991.
Robbins, Ira. Review of Loveless, by My Bloody Valentine. Rolling Stone. March 5,
Rotondi, James. “The Jesus and Mary Chain.” Guitar Player 26/7, 1992. 19-20.
Stevens, Andrew. “Leave Them All Behind - ‘Shoegazing’ and British Indie Music in
the 1990s.” 3 A.M. Magazine January, 2003.
Titon, Jeff Todd. Powerhouse for God: Speech, Chant, and Song in an Appalachian
Baptist Church. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988.
Walser, Robert. Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal
Music. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1993.
Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/ (accessed on February 26, 2006)
Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. © 1967, Parlophone PMC 7027
Mono/PCS 7027 Stereo
The Birthday Party
Hits. © 1992 4AD 45087-2
Whirlpool. © 1991, Dedicated
The Clash. © 1977, CBS 82000
Stars and Topsoil: A Collection 1982-1990. © 2003, 4AD B00004Y2FT
Psychedelic Jungle. © 1981 IRS SP 70016
Ambient 1: Music for Airports. © 1978, PVC LP7908
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. © 2000, Kranky KRK43
Yanqui U.X.O. © 2002, Constellation CST24
The Jesus and Mary Chain
Psychocandy. © 1985, Blanco Y Negro BYN 7
Spooky. © 1992, 4AD RTD120.1259.240
Come On Die Young. © 1999 Matador Records ole-365 dbl LP/CD
Rock Action. © 2001 Matador Records ole-490 LP/CD
Happy Songs for Happy People. © Matador Records 567
Ask Me Tomorrow. © 1995, 4AD.
My Bloody Valentine
This is Your Bloody Valentine. © 1985, Tycoon ST7501
Ecstacy. © 1987, Lazy LAZY 08
Isn’t Anything. © 1988 Creation Records CRELP040
Ecstacy and Wine. © 1989 Lazy LAZY 12
Loveless. © 1991 Creation Records CRELP060
Nine Inch Nails
The Downward Spiral. © 1994 Nothing/Interscope
Definitely Maybe. © 1994, Creation Records/Epic
(What’s the Story) Morning Glory? © 1995, Creation Records/Epic
Matrix 5 - Krzysztov Penderecki: Anaklasis / Threnody for the Victims of
Hiroshima / Fonogrammi / De Natura Sonoris 1 & 2 / Capriccio /
Canticum Canticorum Salomonis / The Dream of Jacob. © 1994 EMI
Wish You Were Here. © 1975 Columbia PC 33453
Ramones. © 1976, ABC SASD-7520
Nowhere. © 1990, Creation Records CRECD074
Going Blank Again. © 1992, Creation Records CRECD124
Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols. © 1977, Virgin V 2086
( ). © 2002 Fat Cat 946.0122.020
Takk. © 2005 EMI 094633725225
Just for a Day. © 1991, Creation Records CCRE 094
Souvlaki. © 1994, Creation Records CRELP 139
Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. © 1995 Virgin
Meat is Murder. © 1985, Rough Trade Records, Rough 81
The Queen is Dead. © 1986, Rough Trade Records, Rough CD 96
The Velvet Underground & Nico. © 1967, Verve Records
David R. Fisher holds the A.A. degree in Music from Manatee Community
College, and the B.A. Degree in Music and the M.M. degree in Musicology from The
Florida State University. While his musical interests are extensive, his main
concentrations lie in popular music, twentieth-century music, minimalism, and gender
issues. During February of 2006, he presented a paper titled “‘To Here Knows When:’
An Excursion into the Lush Soundscape of My Bloody Valentine” at the annual meeting
of the American Musicological Society, Southern Chapter, held at the University of
Central Florida in Orlando.
|09-06-2007, 10:06 PM||#12|
Location: I believe in the transcendental qualities of friendship.
|09-07-2007, 12:38 AM||#13|
Just Hook it to My Veins!
Location: WILD BOY
Yeah, no one knows what Shoegaze is. I only know one other person who listens to MBV and I turned him onto them. When I initially described the music he said it sounded like terrible meaningless droning noise from my description. Of course he soon realized that Loveless is in fact aural sex.
I had Loveless on in the car the other day and I picked up another friend, within 30 seconds of Sometimes he took my CD out, threw it into the backseat, told me it was terrible, and turned on Linkin Park on the radio
|09-07-2007, 01:19 AM||#14|
Location: like liutenant dan i'm rollin'
hows the girlfriend redbull
|09-07-2007, 01:54 AM||#15|
let's see your penis!
Location: i had a few beers, but i'm cool to drive
community college sounds like fun
|09-07-2007, 02:13 AM||#16|
Location: I believe in the transcendental qualities of friendship.
yeah if you get the "professor" to tell you that you can write about Anything that's when you write five pages about your balls.
|09-07-2007, 03:29 AM||#17|
Consume my pants.
|09-09-2007, 11:29 AM||#18|
Location: the amazing year 400 million
yeah. country. and "old time music".
|09-09-2007, 11:30 AM||#19|
Location: I believe in the transcendental qualities of friendship.
|09-09-2007, 11:45 AM||#20|
Minion of Satan
Location: Damn fine cup of coffee.
|09-09-2007, 09:46 PM||#21|
Consume my pants.
|09-09-2007, 09:51 PM||#22|
Location: NO FEMS