Thursday, January 31, 2008

TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain

TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain
by Dan Weiss

I wanted so bad for TV on the Radio to be what everyone insisted they were. A racially diverse quintet with convictive 9/11-wake politics prone to Pixies and They Might Be Giants covers when they’re not rewriting the (Mac)book for Radiohead’s thinking-man’s-stadium-rock? They even have the word “radio” in their name! What’s not to throw your byline behind?

Unlike flippables on the peerline of say, Deerhunter or Menomena, TVOTR were never an “indie” phenomenon, contained to a few thrilled writers in well-rated Alexa positions. They skipped right past Stereogum to an “A” grade in Entertainment Weekly, a deal with Interscope after only one album (this ain’t Vampire Weekend; I don’t know anyone who’d heard CD-R debut OK Calculator before they were famous) and finally topping the critics’ poll with, arguably, the more activated consensus. I wish Dylan would’ve taken their asses like he did to the far more beloved Strokes and Radiohead in years before, but it was not to be. Say what you will, Pazz & Jop, no album received more unanimous acclaim in 2006 than Return to Cookie Mountain. I remember because I was really, really mad. Mad that the relatively lazy, conservative winner (Dylan’s less-enthuisastically-received-than-some-elder-statesmen-would-have-you-think Modern Times) was brisker and more dynamic than the youthful, “futuristic” underdog.

Maybe the Bush years have drained the consensus’ expectations, but not mine. What I heard were bad singers of the uncompelling variety moaning and hooting through poorly arranged “soundscapes” with a lot of trudge as lacking in complexity as they were in tempo. Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes was a turgid antithesis to rock and roll that won only slightly less acclaim in 2004 than Return did in 2006. The most exciting thing about it was that vigorous album title. Would I love to love an album named that? Well, fuck yes, I mean, it sounds hella more corrosive than Pink Flag or Wild Gift. But my hopes dashed once I heard it. To the ether marched the promising “The Wrong Way,” an awful Jack White impersonation juxtaposed against jazzy horn charts and brick-viscous distorto-bass. “Staring at the Sun” and “Dreams” followed with embarrassingly generic melodies and cheap drum machines inefficiently shading a limited album that could barely keep itself from wetting to mush. To this day, that album sounds like a slug in a salt mine, too weak to dig itself out.

I shook it off, because nothing that unsure of its footing stays long in the genre. The Dears still make albums I presume, and I’m free to never remember their release dates again. TVOTR was a comfortable cast-aside for a minute before Return to Cookie Mountain grievously doubled their acclaim in the eyes of people lacking for “punk” or “exhilarating” music ever since garage and dancepunk went to the 15-minute bins. When your media center stubbornly stays dialed to Devendra Banhart, these things happen, I guess.

What outraged me wasn’t that Cookie Mountain was another overrated album by another oversold band, but that these supposed thought-crimefighters were selling the same tricks twice. One of the album’s three songs I actually like, “Playhouses,” sounds exactly like Babes’ “King Eternal,” except it subtracts the slightly prettier buildup for funkier drum work. Because it’s the same song, the harmonies still choke me up when they sing the same pitch near the coda, and I won’t cavil about improved percussion. But it’s the same song.

“I Was a Lover” isn’t so literal, but fires the same weapons as “The Wrong Way.” Again, the group gets their juiciest sound effects out of the way first, for a truly ugly, clashing opener, this time rendered with actual tension so that the tuneless horn squawks and intentionally choppy sampling sound like two magnets being hopelessly pushed together. It’s the only song here to grow on me in the following year, probably because the acrid soundplay is actually interesting.

The third and final song I can stand is “Wolf Like Me,” almost as annoyingly facile a melody as “Staring at the Sun,” with the added baggage of providing TVOTR fans their occasional “rock” song, to ensure the “exciting” banner stays in their reviews. It’s a stupid song about a werewolf; nothing so cheerfully boneheaded could evade my willing earshot for long, though I cringe to note it’s also the group’s most sexual song, easily.

And then there’s…the rest which bleeds together. Circular “chants” that go nowhere (“A Method”), a godawful attempt to groove that only proves how horrible Tunde Adebimpe’s singing voice really is (“Blues From Down Here”—dig the patience-trying first 30 seconds), and, oh God, I knew it was coming to this…“Province,” the least tolerable thing these weary souls have yet put to tape. If I have to tolerate Adebimpe’s awful falsetto “hooooo…hoooeeeeeehooooo” lines again, I’m personally bludgeoning him with the dull end of one of his band’s own drum loops. Pray that they hold out their DIY ethos long enough that this song’s intro doesn’t surface in ubiquitous TV commercials until after I die.

Lastly, TVOTR don’t strike me as very likable people. Sure, they hate Bush, so does Ron Paul, and if I give their embarrassing Web-only blip “Dry Drunk Emperor” credit, I have to give it to Incubus, who also compared him to Christ in equally tactless measure. But their most explicit public rants have less to do with politics than biting the hand that overfeeds them. Note to David Sitek: Tripping balls on a MySpace blog about your album leaking is so 2005, dude. Welcome to major labels.

Even more offensive is the statement of disapproval they gave the Village Voice for printing a drawing of Bob Dylan running over Kyp Malone, a caricature of their silver medal victory pointed up as a show of racism—by a paper with a notorious history of racism, right? Oops—when they’re actually the first black artists to not win the poll since Wilco in 2002. The Voice ended up apologizing for the misconceived depiction, which is fair, but somehow I doubt they would’ve complained of a vice versa drawing of Dylan getting run over had they won. Right, I’m only supposed to evaluate the music, but the music is so vague on feeling and sentiment that these rare shows of expression can be the dividing line on second chances. I don’t really want to know their aesthetic if it’s as miserable and toothless as they are. At least Britney Spears’ pathos is a captivating study.

If 2006 really needed a politically-correct rock savior, Be Your Own Pet’s nay-selling debut goes cheap on Amazon and gets far better use of the same American Fatigue TVOTR supposedly made something of simply by ignoring it, proving their teenage potency by rocking out on two-wheelers and going for ice cream. When Jemina Pearl discards her boyfriend in the swamp, it’s far more gratifying than any target TVOTR supposedly dispatches somewhere in their underproduced fog.

Dan Weiss is an editorial intern at CMJ and the editor-at-large of What Was It Anyway. He enjoys questionable lifestyle choices in Brooklyn and has written for Village Voice, Stylus, Cleveland Scene, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Lost at Sea.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin

The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin
by Ally Brown

There was obviously a bit of negotiation required at All Music Guide over the evaluation of the Flaming Lips' 1999 opus The Soft Bulletin. Despite being breathlessly summarized by reviewer Jason Ankeny as "the best album of 1999," and "might be the best record of the entire decade," it didn't earn the full 5-star rating, nor did it wrestle the “AMG pick” tick away from 1993's Transmissions From the Satellite Heart. There must have been a dissenting sub-editor there, who wasn't persuaded by Ankeny's rhapsodic review, the rare 10.0 granted by Pitchfork, or the year-end charts of NME and Uncut, both of which placed The Soft Bulletin at the summit. The final year of the millennium wasn't a great year for music, but the AMG subber was right to be guarded. The Soft Bulletin featured too few melodic ideas for a classic, but managed to hide that from many critics by smothering everything with saccharine production trickery. But for a few moments of inspiration, The Soft Bulletin was mutton dressed as lamb.

Think of it this way: We all know it's easier to tell a pretty lady when she's not wearing make-up. When a photo has been severely airbrushed or when a woman is drowning in foundation and blush, there's always cause to be suspicious of the hidden. Naturally fair maidens don't need embellishment, and there's a similar rule with pop music, the best of which retains its prettiness even after it's been stripped bare. Sometimes we enjoy the enhancements viscerally, as with much shoegaze, but as Scott McKeating said of Loveless , if that polish doesn't thrill you then there's got to be something like a melody underneath. If not, you're left with a minger caked in make-up trying to fool you into falling for her. But you're too smart, aren't you, to be duped by "Waitin' for a Superman"? Despite flowery piano-tinkling and dramatic synth-strings, it has a melody as sludgy as the bass drum it's tied to. The stereo-effect-shattering drum fills of “Slow Motion” are great, but they can't hide the badly-sung dirge beneath. Listen to the vocal melody of “What is the Light?” Isolate it from the endlessly shimmering piano, the digital-watch beep, the game-show button alert, and all the other clobber that surrounds it, and you could sing that melody in your sleep.

Well, I could sing it in my sleep, but Wayne Coyne is belting it as hard as he can and it's still barely penetrating the mic. I know you don't have to be able to sing to be a singer; but you have to be able to sing . Did the Flaming Lips scrimp on auto-tune software in favor of more instrumental studio trickery instead? "More make-up cake boss, we’ll need more if we’re gonna hide this fugger." Or were they running the auto-tune off a 486 with less megabytes of RAM than there were candles on Wayne's cake? Listen to this bit at the start of "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton"; the fairytale princess skips through the forest, shedding glistening sparkledust over pink bunnies and golden bricks, singing, "They lifted up the sun/A million came from one/They lifted up the s u-u-un". Except she's no fairyland princess, she's a bearded man caked in make-up with a hand up a nun's skirt! (It's only the live-show hand puppet, thankfully). Listen to "The Gash". It's one of the stranger tracks on the album, thanks to the apocalyptic opening, the bouncy, playful bassline, and combined choruses of freaks both human and zombie. I like it a fair bit, but then comes Coyne's verse, a terribly weak link among all this drama, acting as an unwelcome interruption rather than a useful addition. Who invited this guy, and why hasn't his voice fully broken yet? Nobody is asking Coyne to be melismatic like Mariah, or to phrase like Frank, or to have a range like Aretha. Just give us “competent,” instead of relying on that old “characterful” get-out clause. My h*cking cough is characterful.

The Soft Bulletin isn't a minger of a record, I'll concede that much. She even has some nice features, and she can bat her eyelashes pretty sweetly. But it's drunk talk to believe she is some model to be held up, a totem for the decade, a perfect album to love and love and love. The Soft Bulletin is a six-drinks girl, and she's putting on more lipstick and sliding you another vodka. Sure, go for it. But in the cold light of day, don't say I didn't warn you about the letdown.

Ally Brown has written for The Skinny and Stylus Magazine, among others.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Everclear - Sparkle and Fade/So Much for the Afterglow

Everclear - Sparkle and Fade/So Much for the Afterglow
by Jonathan Bradley

Everclear’s “Loser Makes Good” isn’t just a song; it’s a summary of frontman Art Alexakis’ entire ethos. For most artists, a limited repertoire is a crippling hindrance; for Everclear, nearly everything that ever made them worth listening to derived from those three words. And the “makes good” part was often barely necessary.

Everclear was an anomaly of the second-wave grunge acts who retained the punkish simplicity of the genre’s standard bearers, but rarely possessed their melodic acumen or forceful presence. With Sparkle and Fade released the year after Sixteen Stone, by that touchstone of alt-mediocrity, Bush, Everclear was not optimally positioned for critics to welcome them or for pop-historians to remember them. They deserve better; Alexakis colored his fiery riffing with a distinct country edge, and his lyrics were vivid and delivered in a weary, commanding voice. So Much for the Afterglow actually improved it; the band experimented with innovations that mostly worked, such as the harmonies on the title track, the siren-like guitar hook of “Everything to Everyone” or the rustic sparseness of “Why I Don’t Believe in God.” Failures like the unnecessary (yet inexplicably Grammy-nominated!) instrumental “El Distorto De Melodica” were rare.

Over the two nearly stellar albums that bookend the band’s golden years, the 1995 breakthrough Sparkle and Fade and 1997’s So Much for the Afterglow, Alexakis devoted himself to depicting a parade of lovable junkies, no-hopers and fuck-ups; societal outsiders who found comfort in substance abuse and each other. A large number left unspecified troubles back home to find a new life and new troubles on the West Coast. There’s the “loser-geek, crazy with an evil streak” of “White Men in Black Suits” who moved to San Francisco to work in a record store and hook up with a stripper, or Amy of “Amphetamine” (her designated moniker) who “looks like a teenage anthem,” but can’t find happiness in pills or Pacific states. To say that Alexakis romanticized these characters and glorified their lifestyles isn’t a criticism; his pulpy, luridly exploitive treatment is exactly why these albums are so enjoyable.

The band’s songs from this period, even the ones that end in tragedy, are far from cautionary. The single “Heroin Girl” is probably the most grim of these albums’ tracks — the titular character dies of an overdose two thirds of the way through the song — but even this grisly theme is ameliorated by the joy in the characters’ lifestyle: “I’m happy in hell with my heroin girl,” Alexakis growls. And why not, when life in “hell” is described by the lines, “We drink that Mexican beer, we live on Mexican food.” Alexakis doesn’t underplay his companion’s death, but his narratives shift quickly to outrage at the callous indifference of the local law enforcement rolling their eyes at “just another overdose.” Less dramatic, but equally mesmerizing, “Strawberry” is a relapse narrative sweetly sung over a lone, undistorted guitar. “Ten long years in a straight life,” Alexakis sings. “They fall like water/Yes, I guess I fucked up again.” It’s a sad tale, but the insouciant disintegration of Alexakis and a cohort who proffers “a couple of bags down in Old Town,” accompanied by a sweet guitar lapping around his words makes the failure sound like the most inviting thing in the world. Sparkle and Fade and So Much for the Afterglow are trap-hop at the other end, frontline reporting from the addicts rather than the dealers, and Alexakis’ own history of substance abuse lent authenticity to his narratives. The thrill isn’t the stories his characters tell, it’s getting the front row seat to the drama going down.

Alexakis’ losers dreamed of making good, and often the dream was enough. “Santa Monica,” another fantasy of West Coast renewal, expressed just enough hope in the ambition to “live beside the ocean” and “watch the world die” to make the song sound optimistic. When the dreams weren’t achievable, Alexakis could fall back on that ability to make self-destruction sound seductive. It’s hard to believe him when he sings that he “doesn’t want to die with you,” just after admitting “I like to let the arms of a bar wrap around me tight,” and making it sound like the most beautiful thing in the world. “Man, we got to grow up,” he insists, but the churning guitar makes giving up sound much more inviting. Such is the dominance of this aesthetic in the band’s work that even the songs about nothing more than romantic disintegration contain the suggestion the characters have other problems afflicting their relationships. The couple falling apart in “So Much for the Afterglow” could be separating for any reason, but alongside songs about poverty and addiction, it seems perfectly reasonable that this couple, like others on the record, is being pulled apart by substance abuse.

Unfortunately, as good as the band was at this stage, they couldn’t quite produce a perfect album. Sparkle and Fade has a few anonymous pop-punk tracks cluttering up its second half, but worse, it has “Pale Green Stars.” A hint at the mawkish depths Everclear would plumb later, the song is a manipulative account of a divorce with a child at its center that makes Blink-182’s “Stay Together for the Kids” sound sophisticated. “It’s hard on a young girl/She thinks it’s all her fault,” is maudlin enough, but seems particularly sensational following Alexakis’ contrived portrayal of her innocence, describing a “scared little girl watching Aladdin on TV.” Even worse is the allusion to pubescent menstrual cycles (or perhaps teenage pregnancy) suggested by “It’s hard on a young girl when the blood won’t come when it ought to come.” Coupled with some pathetic pleading to the girl’s mother (“Amanda always cries when you yell at me/please don’t yell at me,”) the song is a thorough disaster from beginning to end. That it immediately follows “Queen of the Air,” a tawdry, rather than compelling, family drama, makes this section of the album particularly rocky.

Alexakis must have recognized that he could not mine heroin chic indefinitely, but other than enthusiastically sneering putdowns like “Local God,” from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack and “Everything to Everyone,” he seemed to have little idea as to how to effectively expand his palette. His penchant for sentimentality was kept mostly in check on these earlier records, though “Father of Mine,” from So Much for the Afterglow is another misstep, too self-pitying to succeed as the screed it wants to be, undermined by simple moralizing.

By 2000, when the band released the nauseating single “Wonderful,” a sappy and manipulative soliloquy sung from the perspective of yet another child of divorce, anything interesting about Everclear had evaporated entirely. Alexakis announced his optimism with the awfully titled Songs from an American Movie: Learning How to Smile, but failed to discuss domesticity in the engaging manner with which his debaucheries were once detailed.

Of this decade, probably the only Everclear song worth mentioning is “Volvo Driving Soccer Mom,” a petty but amusing diatribe against “blond, bland, middle class Republican[s]” living in the suburbs. This excursion to the red states had potential, but Alexakis made no attempt to understand the characters he sang about, and so the song was little more than a humorous sneer. In the ‘90s, he allowed the strippers and junkies more nuance.

Unfortunately, that rare latter-day highlight demonstrates why the band couldn’t take that next step. When Alexakis ran out of losers trying to make good, he suddenly found he had very little to say.

Jonathan Bradley has written for Stylus Magazine, Lost at Sea, Volume Magazine and the Western Front, and rules over his own miniature Internet fiefdom, the Screw Rock 'n' Roll blog. Although it's not widely known, he is Australia's best music critic.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver

LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
by Ian Mathers

We have a weird love-hate relationship with our artists' maturation processes. In James Murphy’s case, “we” indicates...I don't know anymore, man. The “blogosphere”? Pitchfork? The Stylus diaspora? If you're reading this, you probably have some inkling of who “we” are, because you're one of “us.” Murphy gets it coming and going; his debut was too immature for some of us, and now I'm going to tell you Sound of Silver is too staid. There's a joie de vivre coursing through LCD Soundsystem that no longer exists on Sound of Silver—not even the good tracks. Even the Eno and Lennon rips, yes; if you had a problem with “Great Release” for sounding like an outtake from Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), you should probably just stop listening to music altogether before you run into more examples of shameless aping and hurt yourself.

Murphy probably believed his own press. LCD's eponymous debut, still the best thing Murphy’s done, won positive but curiously lukewarm reviews. It’s now apparent that one of the big contentions was that nothing on that LP seized the hipster zeitgeist—sorry, Made A Statement, like “Losing My Edge.” Maybe it didn't, but Sound of Silver is packed full with more attempted “statements,” from “All My Friends” (not actually a bad song, but blown way out of proportion by pretty much every writer out there) to the bad show-tune finale of “New York I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down,” they all fall flat to some degree.

In fact, the only track that really attains a significant portion of the affect that Murphy seems to intend and critics seem dead set on assigning him is the one that's been shoved aside in favor of “All My Friends” (Internet critic consensus pick for track of the year! Including Stylus! Man, sometimes we just all get it wrong). “Someone Great” has both the best sonic texture of the album—a fuzzy, sliding pulse arcing through it that sounds like the world's best headache—and lyrics that actually approach the mighty “Paint It, Black” for their devastated ambiguity. Except that, it being 2007, Murphy substitutes puzzled postmodernism for Mick's blank anguish and somehow makes it work. “Someone Great” is as much about how we're weirded out by grief as it is actually is about grief.

Yes, “All My Friends,” is a reasonably good song. I'm even willing to acknowledge a kind of minor greatness to it. But it's not about you. I don't mean that in the trivial sense that James Murphy wrote it and you didn't; go read the lyrics again. It's another song about the perils of losing your life to a career in music, which is something most of the people busily clutching the song to their hearts have no idea about and never will. Most accounts of “All My Friends” speaking to anyone sounded more aspirational more than anything else. If you’re James Murphy or at a similar level of fame, sure it’s as good as the song you've read about (which is why quasi-famous John Cale's version is so fucking great). I’m not saying a song can’t have emotional reach beyond its original scope, but the gap between what is competent and effectively moving and some sort of beatific vision that deeply touches us all and makes a statement about our lives is gaping enough that, at best, healthy portions of wishful thinking clouded the reception of “All My Friends.” At worst, it is willful ignorance.

That's the thing: For those two tracks, Murphy has made a personal, effective album that maintains his ridiculous success streak of marrying his schlubby, semi-protean vocals to well-refined beatscapes that are both more and less interesting than they first seem. The rest of the album, though, is a complete write-off. “North American Scum” is even more eye-rollingly stupid than I feared it would be, from the combination of title and early press reports overwhelmingly approving its “political” stance, the same kind of risible bullshit* that permeates, say, Sleater-Kinney's “Entertain.” Acknowledging in the song that you're talking bullshit doesn't excuse said bullshit, dude. “Time to Get Away” and “Us V. Them” bring an unpleasantly condescending air to Murphy's repertoire, giving off a whiff of unearned condemnation. I can't really remember “Get Innocuous!!” or “Watch the Tapes,” which isn't promising given how many times I listened to this album hoping it would coalesce.

For the last two tracks, Murphy really fails to end on a high note like the debut did. Unless you really hate Brian Eno, “Great Release” was a pretty beatific way to send off LCD Soundsystem. Here, “Sound of Silver” itself is only kind of tolerable, in a “nice beat, shame those endlessly repeated lyrics aren't nearly as interesting as you think they are” kind of way. But “New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down” is everything the title promises (and more!)—the kind of bullshit that has Murphy working so far out of his emotional, sonic, and vocal range that it's painful to hear. But it sure does sound Significant, and that's obviously important to the man. Or at least what gets you kudos these days. And that, sadly, is what might be causing him to actually lose his edge.

*maybe it's easier to see this from Canada.

Ian Mathers has written for Stylus Magazine, Village Voice and the world's biggest Philip K. Dick fan site. He is currently finishing his Master's degree in Philosophy at the University of Guelph and wishes he had more time to write about music.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Reconsider, Baby / My Bloody Valentine - Loveless

Endtroducing...What Was it Anyway?
by Dan Weiss

I'm in no way qualified to bring Stylus Magazine back from the dead. If you're looking for Stylus: Deep Space Nine, mail your generous bribe to Nick Southall or Mike Powell or the cigar-chompin' Derek Miller, any of whom render an actual Stylus aesthetic (if there ever was one) fuller than anything I could conceptualize. Not gonna lie, I was a minor presence (peep this Troy McClure inflection: "You may remember me from such reviews as Balkan Beat Box and The Willowz!"). So think of me as a superfan. Or as one of those ghoulish comment boxers with a bean more initiative.

I started writing for thegreatestmusicsiteoftheinformationage just last Spring and spent six jobless months soaking it up, obsessing over the archives, catching up on brilliant shit I missed when I wasn't even aware of its existence, and admiring a good lot of my peers' contributions. But my very favorite feature was the On Second Thought column. I'm an argumentative bastard, and was instantly giddy from the shock of music critics forced to separate themselves from the echo chamber and defend the undefendable favorites of their youth (or adulthood...yeah, mostly adulthood). Many pleasures are universal, but sometimes they're truly personal, and that's where dissent becomes the healthiest reminder that there is no singular ideal canon just justifies anyone's idea of rock and roll. One critic's pet perfection inspires another critic's pet rebel to tear it down. It's really a beautiful thing. I'd love it if the hard-working motherfucker Todd Burns kept the entire site going for another five years, but even the greatest music writing isn't worth the strain on his life expectancy.

Out of love, my own selfish desire to keep it going (I only got to do one!), and to keep a chunk of Stylus vets sane and working, we bring you What Was It Anyway?, named for a Sonic Youth song I don't think anyone likes, which is the point. I came this close to choosing Justin Cober-Lake's excellent suggestion to call this blog Reconsider Me, Baby, but ultimately decided it all the more crucial to piss off Clapton fans in the long run (really, they deserve it). Every week, this space will update with a different writer's take on an album whose reputation is just wrong, be it grossly overhyped, or criminally underrated. And not just Stylus almuni; watch this space for Village Voice writers, high school students and even you; any competent writer who wants to pitch me, yoo hoo. Todd Hutlock will provide invaluable assistance to my rough-diamond editing skills. I'm looking forward to keeping this thing versatile and going, so tell your most literate friends. Now, I cede the blog to Mr. Scott McKeating for a few words on why Loveless fucking sucks.

Dan Weiss has written for the Village Voice, Stylus Magazine and Lost at Sea. His blog Kiss Out the Jams is generally considered unfit for human consumption.

* * *

My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
by Scott McKeating

Loveless fooled a generation.

With its gestation having nearly bankrupted Creation records (it’s still difficult to imagine the studio bills outweighing the coke dealer’s invoice), Alan McGee desperately put his bullshit machine into gear, mainlining hype into the once mighty IPC towers. Labeled as a modern psychedelic classic, Loveless was supposed to be the link between rock and “other” music, something glimpsed between the worlds of indie, shoegaze, and an intangible future. Fact is, if Loveless wasn’t on Creation I wouldn’t be writing this, you wouldn’t be reading it, and neither of us would own it. The stories about nocturnal sessions, tents in the studio, and sleep deprivation around the album are exactly that; a mixture of fact and fiction told to create a myth in order to pad out a poorly executed album. Despite the psychedelic claims, Loveless was never going to kick-start anything internal by creating a slow haze of repetitive sound and a miasma of indie girls sexlessly slow-motioning to fuzzy loops.

MBV’s debut, Isn’t Anything, was a straight-up rock record filtered through a production aesthetic that generated a set of half-morphed paeans to sex and sensuality. Loveless took a step back, removed the sensuality and left the obvious melodic elements sitting dry on strict blocks of sound. Having androgynous vocals doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an air of indeterminate sexuality, androgyny can be as heavy handed and ugly as straight-forward sexuality and just as impotent. This submersion into a colder world creates a distance in the record and sadly, not in any sort of alien/bizarro way either; the empty, uninvolved sonics amount to a flimsy shell. With emotional content not being one of the band’s concerns, even the post-orgasmic thawing shudder that they managed on Isn’t Anything is gone. The songs on Loveless are those of a traditional rock quartet whose traditional songs were saved from twee-sector obscurity (see their pre-Isn’t Anything material for a laugh) via a bong-fueled production methodology.

It can be difficult to gauge things through a fog, but it’s still possible to see acne through a bridal veil. Any apparent mystery or sense of otherness on Loveless just doesn’t catch hold. With Japancakes having recently covering the whole of the Loveless album for release, it’s become all the more possible to glimpse the Emperor's barren testicles through his new clothes. In making the melodies the axis on which their version orbits, Japancakes reveal Shields’ vision as a drenched whitewash masking his writer’s block.

The album’s “centerpiece,” the much waffled-over “To Here Knows When,” threatens to swoon but falls infinitely short; its failure is indicative of the whole album’s deficiency. Blunt waves are made drearier by reiteration, leaving the only life pumping through Loveless the result of someone twiddling the EQ dial whilst it plays. Could the beats get any tinnier? Picture the Chipmunks doing Einstürzende Neubauten covers. MBV’s ham-fisted adoption of beats heralded the oft-championed "Soon," helping along the birth of Indie Dance. How about next time just replacing my meals with burritos filled with shit? There’s no bliss or turmoil in that song’s eddies, merely a production aesthetic masking a few loops. The piece isn’t beautifully drizzled in swathes of blur; it’s doused in wet gauze. The overkill of keyboard-triggered waves becomes boring fast.

Kevin Shields has described My Bloody Valentine as rock minus its guts — “the remnants” — but that line is so far off target that it puts “Shotgun” Cheney to shame. This isn’t the sound of music that’s been stripped; it’s the sound of weak melodies padded out — loft insulation to keep the tune from sitting dry and lonely. Loveless is rock with its prematurely formed organs replaced by tofu, the insides sitting like hardened scrambled egg on the outside. The album is not a reinvention of wheel; it’s the stock conventional structure that Bill Haley used with “Rock Around the Clock.” This sounds like an abortive studio experiment, the layers of feedback and tremolo sounding nailed to the record; no voluptuous layers, no depth, and no magic. It’s possible to hear Shields’ hands attempting to construct something that flows beyond the confines of rock, but he doesn’t get there. Some have called Shields a genius for obsessing over the details, for trying to paint an accurate picture of the sounds in his head. Hasn’t anyone ever met a stoner before? The layers on Loveless are the work of a man high enough to see infinity in basic cut and paste; of substance in mere repetition.

Neglect for any spontaneity, surprise or movement leaves the record a thin mush of octave-altered feedback with a flute player on top. There’s an insidious, repetitive feel that cookie-cutter blocks of loopage were laid end-to-end from song to song. There are no arrangements, accidental or otherwise, inside the pulp, and even the pulp is thin. Shields and co. reveal a complete and utter lack of textural consideration. Things never reach an amorphous stage; the album is just too clunkily and predictably laid out to signify movement. Instead of an animated jellyfish-morphing sound, there’s the strict aural structure of lukewarm wax in a lava lamp. They couldn’t even be bothered to coat the terminally dull tremolo monotony of “When You Sleep” to make it interesting. “Touched” may have predated the Hauntology genre, but the whole lacks the glitterdust swirl of its own legend. Whether it’s the work of a midnight smoker or the Phil Spector of Shoegazing is not the issue here; Loveless has never really had to stand outside of its fairy tale. There is nothing genius about stringing hunks of tremolo-feedback static together with a single strand of melody on top.

Scott McKeating has written for Dusted, Stylus Magazine and Drowned in Sound. He is currently the Editor at Large of Rock-A-Rolla magazine and a contributor at

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