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.

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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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Blogger Ned said...

I dunno, I thought it was all right.

January 4, 2008 at 1:21 PM  
Blogger Ally Broon said...

Brilliant, Scott. I always felt Loveless was better in theory than in practice. I think you have nailed it, and nailed it HARD!

January 6, 2008 at 12:20 PM  
Anonymous Invisible Oranges said...

"There is nothing genius about stringing hunks of tremolo-feedback static together with a single strand of melody on top." Heh, you just indicted half of black metal. I don't love this record but I don't hate it, either. The repetition and blockiness aren't necessarily dead ends. Still, the tracks are too long. The album severely needs a remaster. It's a sound record, not a song one (at least it's supposed to be, right?), and the sound is lacking.

January 9, 2008 at 8:29 PM  
Blogger Sandip said...

IMO, the most critically acclaimed album I have ever had the unfortunate opportunity to have listened to. And I have listened to it, over and over and over and over and over again, to try and gain SOME glimmer of the "brilliance and beauty" of Shields from behind the heady waves of noise that pound incessantly in the same predictable patterns ad nauseum. And it just isn't there. I just dont get it. I dont get it.

February 10, 2008 at 1:29 AM  
Anonymous blogga said...

ha. some people create art. some people write about it.

September 30, 2008 at 6:53 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Yeah, it really just wasn't that good, was it? People hail the production as ground-breaking, and I thought it to be as bad as the production on that last Metallica dud, "St. Anger," for a surprisingly similar reason: tinniness.

There is no sonic depth here, no field of sound to explore with your mind and ears. It is flat as a child's finger painting.

October 27, 2008 at 7:43 PM  

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