Every Wednesday, Douglas Wolk explores the people, places and coincidences that tie disparate musicians together.
When My Bloody Valentine released their 22-years-in-the-making album MBV this past weekend, an entire generation of indie-rockers freaked out: We thought this was never going to happen, and we’d been making do with our own imitations since then. The band’s previous album, Loveless, came out November 4, 1991, and it may be hard for those readers who weren’t yet of music-listening age at the time to understand how important it was to the rock underground at the time. Loveless (and, to some extent, 1988’s Isn’t Anything album and the EPs MBV released in that era) was the single biggest stylistic touchstone for an entire wave of bands that followed in its wake. (Just for the sake of grounding, here’s the video for its opening track, “Only Shallow.”)
There was an initial wave of post-Isn’t Anything bands in the U.K. that adopted guitar tones along the lines of My Bloody Valentine’s — Catherine Wheel, Swervedriver, Chapterhouse and the like. The first sign that American bands were also catching on to the MBV sound, though, was the 1991 debut single from the Washington, D.C.-area group Lilys: “February Fourteenth,” whose title (and chorus) are a major tip-off to where they got their melodic sense and overall aesthetic.
Older bands heard Loveless and saw the light, too. Edward Ball had been recording with various lineups under the name Teenage Filmstars since 1979, but when he reconvened the group in 1992 for the Star/Lift Off Mit Der Teenage Filmstars album, he was very much under the spell of MBV; “Kiss Me” could practically be a remix of something from Loveless.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Bob Mould has said of the first time he heard My Bloody Valentine, while on tour in the U.K. “When it was done, I was both exhausted and exhilarated. Loveless had a profound effect on me.” You can hear its inspiration in a lot of the songs on Beaster, the 1993 EP by Mould’s band Sugar–and you can see the inspiration of its cover artwork in the video for that record’s “Tilted.”
Yo La Tengo had a well-developed identity of their own by 1993, but bits of that year’s album Painful — especially “From a Motel 6″ — found them paying homage to My Bloody Valentine’s particular take on the same raw materials that fueled their own work.
In Boston, Swirlies learned a few tricks from Loveless — especially the way they handled male/female vocals and tone-bent guitars. (See, for instance, “Wrong Tube,” from 1993’s Blonder Tongue Audio Baton.) Swirlies gradually veered in stranger and more original directions; they’ve since made almost their entire discography available for free download as MP3s.
The closest a radio-popular band got to approximating the MBV sound was probably the chorus of “Supervixen,” the opening track of Garbage’s debut album in 1995.
By then, though, there were bands that had built their entire aesthetic around the Loveless sound, like Scott Cortez’s band Astrobrite. “Crasher,” from their 2001 album Crush (apparently recorded some years earlier), is a pretty good example of how much that project owes to MBV, and a terrific blob of guitar noise on its own.
The New Jersey group All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors modified the jet-engine guitar sound and dreamily slowed-down rhythms of Loveless with a few gestures of their own — wobbly synthesizers and electronic noises, in particular — for “Saturn Jig,” from their 1996 debut album.
There are little details of Loveless that have turned up in one context or another all over underground rock in the past 20 years. Compare, for instance, Colm O’Ciosoig’s eight snare smashes at the beginning of “Only Shallow” with the drum flourish eighteen seconds into the Sacramento band Fleeting Joys’ 2006 song “Go and Come Back.”
It’s safe to say that at some point My Bloody Valentine simply became a genre: the New York City band Soren Well, who recorded “After” (below) circa 2009, were small children when Loveless came out, but they’ve grown up with Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher’s guitar sound as a fact of the musical landscape.
You could probably say the same of the Austin, Texas band Ringo Deathstarr; their 2011 song “Imagine Hearts” has a more foursquare sense of rhythm than MBV, but it’s still impossible to conceive of how it might have been recorded if not for Loveless’s “Soon.”
And the London band Yuck is fixated on the particular historical moment that produced Loveless — in their 2011 single “Get Away,” you can also hear traces of Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, and the Pixies’ “Tame.”
Now the interregnum has ended — and, as it happens, most of MBV’s new album sounds like they’re picking up right where they left off in 1991. Its closing track “Wonder 2″ (below), though, hints at the jungle/drum-’n’-bass fascination that Kevin Shields mentioned in ’90s-era interviews. Perhaps there’ll be a few more bands that sound something like this in a couple of years — a flashback to a moment in music that it’s possible no one got to hear until 15 years after it happened.