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My Bloody Valentine – Loveless

July 1, 2006

Very seldom do I listen to an album and get as blown away as I did with this one. I’ve only really been floored by an album on the first listen once, and even then, I had heard at least one of the songs on that album once. A lot of my favorite albums were not completely new on my first full listen to them. By that point, I had most likely already heard most of it on the radio or at home from my parents, etc. But Loveless by My Bloody Valentine is just a very special album as it is very much the pinnacle of it’s genre. Very few genres even have any albums like this. Heck, very few subjects have pinnacles like this. Basketball has Michael Jordon. The art of guitar playing has Jimi Hendrix. And I guess shoegaze rock has Loveless. Hearing all the other shoegaze that I have listened to has almost disappointed me, because this album is just miles above it’s opposition. That said, you would be hard pressed to find a more detailed, lush, and immerseful album than this gem.

One thing you will always hear about this album is that you kind of need to hear it on headphones to really understand it. I’m not sure if that is completely true. It’s just that headphones seem to be the best and most convienient way to listen to it. The fact that the album can be played at all on the stereo function makes listening to this correctly a very frustrating experience. You need to play it loud, that much I will say. But to do so on a conventional stereo is sort of difficult. Not playing this on a high quality sound system is a shame, and even the most subtle of differences can make the listening experience a problem. For example, my stereo is at a very strange profile to where I actually sit and listen to music. With that said, I can’t quite get the full experience out of this album unless I literally sit in front of my stereo and absorb each speaker with equal space. So headphones are the best way to listen to this, and if you aren’t worried about damaging your ears and are worried about annoying the neighbors, that is the way to go.

Anyway, the reason you need to have such a perfect environment to listen to this album is because it is so detailed. Even at the very beginnint of Only Shallow, the albums first song, you will find that the opening sounds are so clumped up and swirling that you can’t really tell what is going on instrumentally. There might even be a fricking elephant in there, no joke. But when it smooths out, the vocals are unintelligible and the instrumentation is now smooth and dreamy. In case you were wondering, this album is notorious for costing about a half million dollars to make, and almost bankrupt it’s label. Of course, I’m sure it more than paid for itself, but it paid off in different ways anyway. The fact that this album is as gorgeous as it is should be a payoff enough, and you can just feel how layered every song is.

The very concepts of guitar, bass, drums, and vocals are completely turned around when you listen to this album. Guitar especially, because the amount of distortion is very suprising. Of course, in a good way. The main man Kevin Shields in addition to Bilinda Butcher both do a great job of layering the guitars here, but once again, this is not an album to actually be nitpicking about details so much as taking them in. The only organized part of the guitars would be the actual chords, not their exact timing, as everything melds together anyway. If that makes any sense. The bass often just adds to the layering like it does in any band, and only in a few tracks such as Soon does it really play a pivitol role. But if you listen closely, it does really do it’s job well. The drums are usually reserved and almost a little mechanical, but still very important. Obviously. But upon the first listen, the timing involved in this album can be very off putting, especially for Blown A Wish, and while it is a great tune, it is very confusing.

Another undeniable quality of this album is that it oozes sexuality. I remember some review somewhere, I think it was the official one on amazon.com, describing the album like a magma flow of sexuality, or something along those lines. That is totally true. Even the albums only little blurb of filler, Touched, works as a perfect interlude into the next song while demonstrating the ecstacy and skewed feelings involved with sex. Bilinda Butcher has perfect vocals for this job. If you have ever heard the bands previous endeavor, Isn’t Anything, you will realize how Kevin Shields voice sounds a tad annoying on it’s own. The change is welcome, and the feminine aspect of the vocals on this album is very pleasing. But the juxtaposition of Kevin’s and Belinda’s voices on certain tracks is also very well done.

The sheer ground that this album covers is amazing. Not all of the tracks are completely memorable, but all are atmospheric and have their own individual power nonetheless. Even the weakest track in my opinion, Loomer, is a very good song, and makes do with hushed intensity. To Here Knows When and Blown A Wish are both very much alike because Belinda’s vocals play such an important role. The hushed confidence of To Here Knows When is a very cool effect, as well as the noisier and more detailed and flowing Blown A Wish. And the wall of sound Come In Alone is not to be overlooked either. This is the song on the album that truly needs to be cranked to get it’s full potential. It is a warm comforting wall of sound that you need to let engulf your ears for a little while. This is great daydreaming music, and actually great dreaming music, very easy to drift off to because it is just so natural.

This album isn’t radio-friendly at all, because it does not focus on accessible hooks or anything. But the more accessible songs are actually the ones that are the best. Sometimes is a break from the fun and relaxation to say a few serious (yet not really understandable) lines about love and relationships. The flow of the song and the precision and skill involved in the music and progressions is very admirable. When You Sleep very well be the most popular song off the album, and that is for a very good reason. The…out in front thing (keyboards, flute, something.) is just brilliant and relieving. It’s cousin I Only Said sort of does the same thing by having a keyboard/flute/thing out in front that sets the example and progressions for the rest of the song to follow, and it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and become annoying either. This is by far the most detailed track on the album, as far as the whispering, guitars, sound effects, etc go. The ending result is quite ambrosial, and not easily contested. This is the track that shows that more is better, or at least it is better when this band piles on the layers.

The last two tracks are probably the strongest. What You Want is the perfect drive of guitars and an optimistic outlook on life. This is the kind of track that makes you want to get off of your butt and do something, although it is also very conclusive. Conclusive tracks often annoy me, because I would like to think that something good won’t end anytime soon. I get annoyed because it is only a week before something good will happen sometimes. Like, I’m just that worried about not being able to appreciate something for what it is. The last song on the album, Soon, remedies this situation perfectly. It is probably the best song on the album, and what you would most likely expect to hear first. It has a driving dance beat and layers upon layers of good stuff, just like usual. The sleigh bells are the perfect touch and make the song very enjoyable. They actually remind me of Christmas, or at least winter, my favorite part of the year. But it doesn’t feel cold enough to really make that connection.

Anyway, this is the album that keeps on giving. The tangibility and detailing of the music is something that even I haven’t come to fully grasp, because whenever I hear the album, there is always some new part where I say to myself, “Oh, that’s cool. I didn’t notice that before.” The only sad thing about this album is that it was never followed up, which is very disappointing, considering it seems like Kevin Shields had very much to say. It seems a little late to hope, but either way, this album seems like it will never get old, and it is a lot of fun to listen to for how sophisticated it is.

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