Arts and Entertainment

Thirty Years of Loveless: The Past, Present, and Future of My Bloody Valentine

A herald to “Loveless” as a masterpiece and a discussion of its influence on shoegaze.

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Rarely is an artistic achievement so widely beloved in its niche that even after generations of experimentation, it retains relevance. But “Loveless” by the indie band My Bloody Valentine (MBV), is the definition of timeless. This year marks the 30th anniversary of My Bloody Valentine’s influential masterpiece that still resonates with almost every rock-based music circle. Its revolutionary guitar techniques, ethereal soundscapes, and surging riffs have captured the hearts of millions, and for good reason. Kevin Shields was so devoted to achieving perfection that he famously spent nearly $500.000 of his label’s money on the production of the album, tweaking every aspect of the recording to fit his grand vision until he had created the Paragon Project in what would become ‘shoegaze.’ But to tell his story right, one must go back to the beginning.

Irish guitarist Kevin Shields formed My Bloody Valentine in 1985 with fellow guitarist Bilinda Butcher, and soon enough, drummer Colm Ó Siosóig and bass guitarist Debbie Googe joined the ranks. Shields, a man of many influences, admired the emphasis on mid and mid-high guitar frequencies of artists like Public Enemy and the Cocteau Twins, as well as the combination of crunchy noise and deadpan melody of acts like The Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, and The Velvet Underground. However, when MBV first emerged onto the British post-punk scene, they didn’t make much of an impression. It wasn’t until the release of their iconic EP “You Made Me Realise” in 1988 that Valentine would define their own abrasive, rich style with one of Shields’ most unique developments: the “glide guitar” technique. Glide guitar is the heavy use of a tremolo bar while strumming that results in a wavering, round pitch. They played around with their new formula for a few years, coming up with some excellent results in the process. Their gritty, lo-fi, punk-inspired debut album “Isn’t Anything” (1988) is one of the best shoegaze albums ever. Their subsequent EPs, “Glider” (1990) and “Tremolo” (1991), compound upon the sharded, vivid psychedelia that Shields would soon master on their magnum opus.

“Loveless” is the essence of shoegaze. The term “shoegaze” comes from a concert review that referred to the guitarist’s tendency to stare at their effect pedals while playing as they concentrated on the composition of their music. Shoegaze albums create an opaque wave of sound by combining pounding guitar riffs with lush, dreamy cascades of distortion. “Loveless” encapsulates the viscous cacophony that makes shoegaze so unique by dressing up simple ballads and pop songs with colorful guitar tones. Somehow, My Bloody Valentine creates a relaxing, heavenly experience out of harsh feedback squeals. As the tracks progress, the molten melodies seem to take a languorous, sultry trip through the depths of your consciousness, riding on the noisy waves of harmony while washing out the crevices in your brain that many other albums try and fail to reach. This guitar tone is the focus of “Loveless” and takes center stage. The vocals and drums sit low in the mix, mostly serving to add mood. The lyrics are nearly inaudible, save bits and pieces of phrases, yet they don’t need anything more: the guitar speaks for itself. While these layers of sound seem complex at first listen, Shields aimed to use "very simple, minimal effects" when composing “Loveless”. It is breathtaking that with just rudimentary tools, the band members are able to flirt with the dimensions of sound––masterfully blending, warping, and contorting each note to create a composition that layers the wavy, settling mist of their vocals.

Over the years, shoegazers have taken the genre in a plethora of sonic directions, such as alt-rock and pop, but no matter how divergent their sound is from the blueprint laid by Shields, shoegaze bands of all types owe some of their inspiration to MBV. Artists like Astrobrite and Pinkshinyultrablast bring sugary and bright vocals and compress the buzzy atmosphere, while The Goslings and Xinlisupreme amplify the noisy smolder until it roars and crackles. Ride and Swirlies lean into alternative rock, using the tremolo haze of shoegaze as a tool to create depth for their hooks and riffs, and artists like Candy Claws and Lush combine shoegaze with pop to convey the exuberance of childhood and sexuality, respectively. The list of manifestations that Shields’s ideas have taken even extends to black metal with artists like Alcest and Deafheaven, and ambient with artists like Loveliescrushing and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma. MBV’s most direct spiritual prodigées are two alt rockers: Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins and Courtney Love of Hole, who have cited Shields as their greatest influences. Corgan even admitted that his song “Daydream” is ripped off from MBV.

The future of My Bloody Valentine is looking bright. Though they broke up shortly after the release of their most classic project and had a two-decade hiatus, they returned with a solid entry to the shoegaze canon in 2013 titled “m b v.” In March of this year, the band announced that they would be signing with indie label Domino Records, who reissued a selection of their records for vinyl, put the band’s discography on streaming, and released merchandise. Shields also announced that new records are coming this year, but with his track record of perfectionism, it's hard to take him at his word. Hopefully, the record lives up to the legacy that My Bloody Valentine has created––even though that’s a near-impossible feat.