My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’: the Enduring Embodiment of Shoegaze Turns 25

The innovative landmark album is a wellspring of inspiration a quarter century later

my bloody valentine loveless

Credit: My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine’s gauzy masterpiece Loveless celebrates its 25th anniversary today; the groundbreaking album epitomizes the shoegaze genre. Loveless is known for its hazy daydream guitars, which ooze like an oil painting running slick in turpentine. The revolutionary production and performances of Loveless generated colorful swaths of sound and feedback that bleed together like ink on a cotton shirt. These are songs sung slurred, compositions blurred as if seen as if through old screen doors. Despite its 25 years of age, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless sounds as young as yesterday.

Released in November of 1991, Loveless is the Irish quartet’s sophomore album. Glowing off of the praise of 1988’s Isn’t Anything, My Bloody Valentine was expected to deliver on that album’s promise – and quickly. Creation Records heads Alan McGee and Dick Green would have been seasick to know that the album they awaited was three years and almost a quarter of a million pounds away.

Recorded on a nineteen-studio safari across South and West London, My Bloody Valentine’s visionary leader Kevin Shields was certain of one thing: no one knew how to accomplish what he wanted to hear better than he did. He canceled eager engineers, choosing to mike his own cabinets and dial his own reverb. A process of accidental magic, Shields would pick up and leave songs on the magnetic tape for months, losing track of tunings and modifications, but never wavering in his creative vision. “I would say I’m patient rather than stubborn,” he told The Guardian in 2013.

As the band toured and released two LPs, Shields and company dealt with business, illness and homelessness. Founding member and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig can be heard only on ‘Soon,’ the first single, and ‘Touched,’ his soundtrack ballad from another planet. Bilinda Butcher didn’t get to the studio until the summer of 1991. Shields developed tinnitus and tendonitis. Shields took these challenges in stride: “It’s part of the job and we’re all going to die anyway,” he said.

This is the recipe of Loveless: painful and bold, gorgeously haphazard. The singing, which Butcher and Shields recorded behind a curtain, was poured in molten colors, drowned in languorous feedback. The songs are composed with a garage-rock sensibility: a two note vamp, a handful of chords in a recognizable order. Then come the layers of sound, falling like the snow of television static. Shields made innovative use of the whammy bar, hoisting and depressing his Fender Jaguar’s tremolo arm to forklift chords and distort their order. Notes are stretched apart like gum.

my bloody valentine loveless

Loveless was completed and released in 1991. The album won the affection of the industry. Brian Eno, whose own pop sound of warm jets had turned heads, called ‘Soon’ “the vaguest piece of pop music to ever make the Top 40.”

The album reached back to the Beatles, to the Velvet Underground, to Lou Reed’s guitar lightning after his mind splits open. Its influence can be heard in the guitar swaths of early Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead, the atmospheric experimentations of Animal Collective, and beyond.

Today, a full-fledged shoegaze renaissance is under way, drawing on the inspiration of Loveless. As nineties-inspired grunge and punk experienced a second coming in recent years (led by bands like Wavves and DIIV), genre-sibling shoegaze was revitalized with it. Pennsylvania hardcore punk band Title Fight indulged in shoegaze sounds on 2015’s acclaimed Hyperview. Bands like Nothing and Whirr dove into the genre headfirst, spawning the term ‘nu-gaze.’

Despite the contemporary resurgence, shoegaze is best exemplified best on the eleven songs of Loveless. Regardless of whether you’re an old fan or you’re just putting it near your ears now, Loveless has the charm of true art: it sounds brand new.

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