An introduction to My Bloody Valentine in 10 records

An introduction to My Bloody Valentine in 10 records

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Like Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine audaciously redefined the guitar and noise rock. Here’s how the Dublin band did it in ten essential records.


Words: Martin Aston


You wouldn’t call Kevin Shields a disciplined individual, at least after he became successful. After a regular stream of releases by My Bloody Valentine between 1985 and their breakthrough year of 1988, it was another thirty months before the Dublin band re-surfaced. After their 1991 album Loveless, it wasn’t until 2007 that Shields, the band’s creative lynchpin, promised another album – but it took another six years for it to appear.

For a decade, Shields has promised their back catalogue would be remastered and reissued. CDs of MBV’s studio albums (Loveless preceded by 1988’s Isn’t Anything) and the compilation EP’s 1988–1991 were released in 2012, and it’s been another four years to finalise the vinyl versions. All good things come to those that wait, right?

There wouldn’t be such impatience in the ranks of fans if the records weren’t so astonishing, only rivalled in their audacious reinvention of the guitar and the alt-rock genre by the equally iconic Sonic Youth. But the New Yorkers were prolific, and organised, while MBV under Shields’ control have been somewhat compromised by his work ethic – thousands of perfectionist hours of recording, and so little to show for it.

The other difference is how Sonic Youth were essentially born that way; MBV were a vastly different band in their early years, with founding vocalist Dave Conway and a mish-mash hybrid of pre- and post-punk noise, sourcing The Cramps, The Gun Club and The Jesus & Mary Chain – which is why you won’t be getting any reissues of that period. But it’s a fascinating journey, from there to here, from homage to iconoclasm.


geek

My Bloody Valentine
‘The Sandman Never Sleeps’ from Geek!
(Fever, 1985)

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Conway’s hollering overtones of Nick Cave and Lux Interior were matched by Shields’ equally trad guitar, heavily fuzzed and trebly, trailing feedback. There were keyboards, from Tina Durkin. With bassist Debbie Googe giving MBV split gender representation, the boy-girl background vocals added a veneer of Beach Boys/west coast surf-rock to equal the Mary Chain, explored through the debut EP Geek! and the following mini-album This Is Your Bloody Valentine. Hard to believe, knowing what MBV turned into, that they had song titles such as ‘Homelovin’ Guy’, ‘Don’t Cramp My Style’ and ‘Tiger In My Tank’.


the-new-record-by-my-bloody-valentine

My Bloody Valentine
‘Lovelee Sweet Darlene’ from The New Record By My Bloody Valentine
(Kaleidoscope Sound, 1986)

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Taking advice from Virgin Prunes’ Gavin Friday to abandon Britain for (hopefully) big-fish-small-pond status in the Netherlands and Germany, MBV eventually slunk back to London, where their influences chimed with Creation Records’ back-to-the-future sixties garage sound: their new EP was produced by the label’s co-founder Joe Foster and released on his own Kaleidoscope Sound label. Conway played his part, now sounding more like Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, with drippy lyrics to match, and song titles (‘Another Rainy Saturday’, ‘We’re So Beautiful’).


sunny-sundae-smile

My Bloody Valentine
‘Sunny Sundae Smile’ from Sunny Sundae Smile
(Lazy Records, 1987)

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It’s probably because of their distance from the UK scene that MBV weren’t included on NME’s scene-setting C86 cassette (or were they too ‘old’ by now?), even though their songs were often better than many of the eventual contributors, such as ‘Sunday Sundae Smile’, propelled by supercharged drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig, and it was the band’s first Top Ten indie chart single, reaching number six. MBV subsequently went on tour supporting The Soup Dragons – really, The Soup Dragons! That’s how ‘pop’ MBV had slid in a relatively short space of time.

Perhaps MBV’s eventual placed in the alt-rock firmament means these older songs can’t be restored to at least an admired place in that mid-Eighties Britpop scene.


ecstasy

My Bloody Valentine
‘(Please) Lose Yourself In Me’ from Ecstasy
(Lazy Records, 1987)

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The fading trails of C86 indie-pop and the oncoming day of a newer MBV are audible in these seven tracks, with Conway departing (citing illness, and the desire to write novels) and second guitarist and co-singer Belinda Butcher arriving. So, essentially, MBV now had two virtual ‘non’ singers, who preferred to buy their voices beneath the guitars’ newly churning, looping, droning characteristics. The song titles too started to sound more ‘classic’ MBV– blissed out, sleepy, dissolving. Released two weeks before Ecstasy (this, before the drug entered popular consciousness via Acid House, or was it coincidence?), the three-track single fronted by ‘Strawberry Wine’ went further still, a delicious Byrds-influenced hyper-jangle. After the band became indie’s new cause celebre, Lazy released it all as Ecstasy And Wine, to MBV’s severe disapproval.


you-made-me-realise

My Bloody Valentine
‘Cigarette In Your Bed’ from You Made Me Realise
(Creation Records, 1988)

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Their Creation Records debut, and great leap forward – though MBV’s uncanny gyroscopic motion feels like a gear all of their own invention. On your marks, get set, lurch. After the derivations of the past four years, everything about their new EP is a revelation: the cottonwool texture, the gyroscopic rhythms, the guitar warps, the narcoleptic vocals. It pains me to choose ‘Cigarette in Your Bed’ because that means not choosing the chaotic ‘You Make Me Realise’, the narcotic ‘Slow’ or the pummelling ‘Drive It All Over Me’. An extraordinary metamorphosis, a priceless record.


isnt-anything

My Bloody Valentine
‘Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside)’ from Isn’t Anything
(Creation Records, 1988)

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Arriving three months after You Make Me Realise, MBV’s belated full-length debut album didn’t need to re-use any of the five EP cuts, with 12 new songs that enshrined their sonic revolution. ‘Soft As Snow…’ summed up the new giddy momentum, and Shields’ ability to write concise vocal melodies to give MBV a core accessibility, while they could go to either end of the spectrum: intensely dreamy on ‘Lose My Breath’ or intensely frantic (such as ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’, which became the lead single with three new tracks) and sometimes pitched in a sonic lab all their own making (‘Several Girls Galore’, ‘No More Sorry’). Even today, Isn’t Anything sounds utterly on, and of, its own.


gilder

My Bloody Valentine
‘Soon’ from Glider
(Creation Records, 1990)

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The first five thousand copies of Isn’t Anything included a bonus 7-inch single, both named ‘Instrumental, the second of which used a Public Enemy drum loop to create a MBV/dance hybrid. Shields had been experimenting like crazy, which drove him crazy, intent on not reproducing what they’d achieved so far, but already moving on. ‘Soon’, with Cíosóig’s skipping house-indebted sample, presented a nimbler, swisher MBV, albeit still smothered in guitar gloop. ‘Don’t Ask Why’ was almost Beatles-esque, though ‘Glider’ itself was the most warped guitar-chestra – with the rhythm a mere pulse, buried in the diaphanous haze – that Shields had yet concocted. What truly set MBV apart was Shields’ method of strumming chords while simultaneously bending the tremolo/whammy bar – causing the guitar strings to bend in and out of tune – he nicknamed it ‘glide guitar’.


tremelo

My Bloody Valentine
‘Moon Songs’ from Tremelo
(Creation Records, 1991)

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Shields was so enthralled by his guitar’s tremelo arm that MBV’s next EP was named after it. But Tremelo was more notable for Shields’ further delving into texture and effect. The first three tracks appeared to have brief instrumental codas until Shields admitted they were tracks in their own right, but unnamed as he’d been told that EPs should theoretically be only four, or five, tracks. Given the pace-setting and sonic reinvention of their other work, Tremelo stands as the least essential record of the new era, as you can get ‘To Here Knows When’ on Loveless, but of the remaining three tracks, ‘Moon Song’ is a forgotten MBV beauty: like being smothered, slowly and gently, by a downy pillow. MBV may have been noise-pop, but they also sounded remarkably sensual.


loveless

My Bloody Valentine
‘I Only Said’ from Loveless
(Creation Records, 1991)

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Ever the perfectionist, or procrastinator, Shields led the band through 19 separate studios in their 1989-91 period. Loveless had instrumental codas between every track: woven carpets with uncanny patterns, and in between, songs that spun off elliptical riffs and sonic murk that almost collapsed the melodies they were carrying and mirroring. ‘I Only Said’, for example, is structured around the most intoxicating mantra of a motif, almost maddening in its siren-like persistence, like the sound of a mad scientist at work – inside a cement-mixer. But drop the needle on to any juncture within Loveless and the sound testifies to its wonderment.


mbv

My Bloody Valentine
‘Wonder 2’ from MBV
(MBV Records, 2013)

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If anyone though MBV were slack after Isn’t Anything, what of the 22-year wait for another record? Mad scientist Shields admitted he lost the plot during Loveless, and never really found it again – he also admitted to abandoning entire albums of ideas, but eventually, he raided the tape cupboard, and redid parts, and recorded new bits, to create m b v, 10 tracks sequenced in distinct stages. Given Shields’ Achilles Heel was repeating himself, the first six tracks – three Shields vocals followed by three Butcher vocals – are surprisingly conventional, though no less stunning and adventurous. It’s the final third that sets the record apart: MBV as a tough killing machine, especially the maddening staccato loop of ‘Nothing Is’ and finally ‘Wonder 2’, the new frontier that Shields envisaged, inspired by drum & bass’s own irregular, elliptical DNA. If this is the last MBV sound ever released, it’s a fitting finale.

  • Fantastic article — more people need to discover MBV.