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A love letter to My Bloody Valentine

Updated: Oct 14, 2022

Image credit: My Bloody Valentine

Like all other art forms, music is constantly evolving, and as the 80’s bled into the 90’s, new genres such as grunge and dream pop rose to prominence. Due to the abundance of divergent styles and niches, many innovative and influential bands haven’t been given the credit they deserve, at least from the masses. In my opinion, My Bloody Valentine is one such band, having pioneered the genre of shoegaze, and influencing many of their contemporaries such as The Smashing Pumpkins, Slowdive, and Lush.

Shoegaze is generally characterized by an overwhelming amount of guitar effects, distortion, and reverb, and was given its name due to the tendency of guitarists to gaze at the many effects pedals near their shoes during live performances Image credit: Offset Guitars Forum
From left, Kevin Shields, Colm Ó Cíosóig, Bilinda Butcher, Debbie Googe - Image credit: Steve Double/Creation

My Bloody Valentine was formed in 1983, consisting of lead guitarist Kevin Shields, drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig, and vocalist David Conway. In 1984, Conway’s girlfriend Tina Durkin joined as a keyboardist, and in 1985, the group released their debut album, This is Your Bloody Valentine. The album wasn’t commercially successful, nor did it receive much attention from critics. The band then decided to relocate to London, where bassist Debbie Googe replaced Durkin. In early 1987, the band signed to independent label Lazy Records, and it was with them that MBV released the single “Sunny Sundae Smile,” whose success prompted a tour. By the end of the tour, David Conway had parted ways with the band, and he went on to have a career as a writer. Now without a vocalist, the band began auditioning new singers. This led them to Bilinda Butcher, who would be the fourth and final member of the MBV that is known for pioneering the genre of Shoegaze.

1988 was an important year in the band’s development. They released two EP’s, You Made Me Realise and Feed Me With Your Kiss, along with an album, Isn’t Anything. People that had been following the band since “Sunny Sundae Smile” noticed a significant transformation, with the most notable aspect being the sheer volume they employed at live shows. In an interview with Uncut, fellow musician Peter Kember describes it as “a certain quantum shift,” adding that “the noise was overwhelming.” My two favorite songs on this EP are “Drive It All Over Me” and “Slow,” both of which feature many of the guitar effects that the band would eventually become known for. Feed Me With Your Kiss was another step in the direction of unconventional guitar techniques and overwhelming noise, although it wasn’t received with the same sense of awe that many of the band’s past works had been. Isn’t Anything was released November 21, 1988, and was MBV's debut studio album. My two favorite tracks off this album are “Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside)” and “Lose My Breath.”

Kevin Shields and Belinda Butcher in 1990 - Image credit: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

In an interview with Fender, Shields describes his relationship to a specific model of their guitars, the Jazzmaster. The Jazzmaster is an electric guitar made by Fender, and is equipped with a tremolo bar—an arm-like lever attached to the bridge. It is used to vary pitch, creating vibrato, whose manipulation Kevin Shields would take to a new level. Shields says he was first introduced to the Jazzmaster by his friend Bill Carey, who handed him one with a tremolo bar that was set “unusually high.” Within three hours, Shields had already written two songs, “Thorn” and “Slow,” the latter of which was one of his first experimentations with, in his words, “that melted kind of effect.” Shields began to purposefully heighten, and therefore loosen the tremolo bars on his Jazzmasters, sometimes having to modify them using tape. That melted kind of effect would become one of the key components of the band's second studio album, Loveless.

Loveless—which is widely regarded as the bands’ magnum opus—was released in November of 1991, and received critical acclaim from all directions. It was clear that Kevin Shields’ vision for the band had been realized at last. The cascades of guitar and pounding drums blend together like the elements of a previous night’s dream. The ethereal voices of both Shields and Butcher are used as another layer of instrumental, with lyrics that are often described as deliberately obscure. Surprisingly, Shields claims that the guitar effects he used were minimal; there’s distortion and reverse reverb, but according to Shields, nearly everything was done with the tremolo arm. While there’s a lot to say about this album, the only way to truly understand and appreciate it is to listen to it for yourself.

m b v was released in 2013 - Image credit: My Bloody Valentine

After a 21 year long hiatus, MBV released a self-titled album which featured several of the same elements that were essential to Loveless. Many followers of the band have speculated that after the success of Loveless, the band doubted their ability to produce something of the same caliber. That combined with breakups, inconsistencies, and Kevin Shields’ reclusive tendencies have led to countless delays in the production process of many of their albums. Although Shields has recently spoken of releasing not one, but two brand new albums, and even going on tour, who knows when MBV will return. For now, enjoy the few timeless albums and EPs that are available on most streaming services, including Spotify, Youtube, and Apple Music.

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