Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My Bloody Valentine

Sound Familiar?
“Only Shallow,” “To Here Knows When,” “When You Sleep”

Who Are They?
Pioneers of shoegaze and creators of one of the most critically-acclaimed albums of the ‘90s.

Drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig and singer/guitarist Kevin Shields met in Dublin, Ireland in the ‘70s and decided to join a punk band. (Isn’t that how every musician starts out – in a punk band?) But Colm and Kevin wanted to take things further than fast-paced three-chord punk tunes. So the two recruited a singer and a keyboard player and became Burning Peacocks. (Then they realized that name was terrible, so they changed it to My Bloody Valentine.)

The band moved to Holland after playing a successful show in the Netherlands, but due to lack of opportunities, they moved to Berlin and recorded an EP. That EP (1985’s This Is Your Bloody Valentine) failed to leave an impression on anyone, and after four months, My Bloody Valentine left Berlin and lost touch.

After taking some time to regroup, the band decided to hire a bass player (because every good band needs one). Debbie Googe took the job and MBV released three more EPs.

It was 1987 and our heroes were actually enjoying some success on the London gig circuit. During a string of shows supporting the Soup Dragons, singer Dave Conway decided to leave the band (way to go, Dave).

Finding a new vocalist is a tortuous experience for any band. My Bloody Valentine decided to take the newspaper ad approach.

In a 1989 interview with Underground Magazine, Kevin said, “[Putting an ad in the newspaper] was pretty dangerous. I made the mistake of mentioning The Smiths because we liked their melodies. The whole thing was disastrous and excruciating. You should have seen some of the fruitballs we got.”

Out of all those fruitballs, Bilinda Butcher left a good impression. With her on board, MBV recorded a couple more EPs and ended up attracting the attention of Creation Records owner Alan McGee at a 1988 gig. Alan was convinced these guys were the Irish equivalent of Hüsker Dü (and he wasn’t too far off considering MBV’s punk rock roots.)

After signing to Creation, My Bloody Valentine released their first full-length album Isn’t Anything in 1988. The record received some hefty critical praise and got MBV compared to bands like Sonic Youth, The Vaselines and The Jesus and Mary Chain.

So how do you follow up an album like that? Well, you release a better one. Obvious answer, I know. But most bands can’t do it.

It took two years and a lot of trouble to churn out 1991’s Loveless. During the recording process, Kevin Shields emerged as a monstrous perfectionist and almost derailed the entire operation.

But all that drama paid off with the final product. Though Loveless failed to chart in the US, its critical acclaim trumped the lukewarm response from audiences. The NME review declared, “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.”

Soon after the release of Loveless, Alan McGee dropped My Bloody Valentine from Creation Records because he just couldn’t bear working with Kevin again.

The band signed with Island Records in 1992, but recorded very little. Kevin pulled a Syd Barrett and disappeared into his own world for a while. He emerged again in 1996 to collaborate with Yo La Tengo, Primal Scream and Dinosaur Jr. while the rest of My Bloody Valentine went their separate ways.

By 1999, no new MBV material had surfaced, but Kevin insisted that another record was on its way.

Where Are They Now?
Back from the dead with reissues and (rumors of) a new album!

My Bloody Valentine seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth by the start of the new millennium. In 2007, Kevin came out of the woodwork to announce a reunion and an album that was 75 percent finished.

In 2008, the band played a slew of festivals, including All Tomorrow’s Parties, which they also curated.

Following the appearance at All Tomorrow’s Parties, Kevin announced that he planned to complete the new MBV album, but didn’t reveal a tentative release date.

Earlier this year, Sony Music announced that remastered editions of Isn’t Anything and Loveless are scheduled for release on May 4, 2012.

But Why My Bloody Valentine?

Among the string of back catalog material scheduled for release this year, fans may also see the first new My Bloody Valentine record in 21 years. Rejoice, shoegazers!

What Does Sam Think?
My Bloody Valentine are shoegaze heroes. Period. This band is so important to not only the genre, but to ‘90s music as a whole.

Loveless came out a couple months after Nirvana’s Nevermind, but it’s just as (if not more) groundbreaking. What makes this album so interesting is its use of static noise as an instrument.

Grunge fans can recognize the positive aspects of distortion (are there really negatives?). My Bloody Valentine took distortion one step further by adding pitch bending and digital reverb. Those ingredients mix together to create a mass of swirling guitars and ghostly vocals.

But shoegaze kind of got pushed aside when grunge mania hit. Most shoegaze bands gave up when Seattle took over, but that’s not really what happened to MBV. Kevin Shields and company probably didn’t know where to go after Loveless.

That’s really a sticky situation for any band: You release an extremely successful album that showcases your talent in a given genre, but you start to wonder if you should follow it up with a similar record or not.

So, it’s been 21 years since Loveless and there’s still no follow-up (but Kevin says there will be one). I think most fans are wondering what direction the band’s going to take with the new record. According to Mr. Shields, most of the “new” material is from 1996 and 1997. So this is a project that’s been at least 10 years in the making.

This poses a very important question: Will this new record sound like it was recorded in 1997, or will it show the “nu-gazers” who’s still boss?

Let’s hope this isn’t another case of Chinese Democracy.

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

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