My Bloody Valentine have a new album out. It’s called m b v and words fail me. I don’t know whether this album’s been meticulously honed over the past 21 years or whether Kevin Shields has simply relented on his crazy perfectionism and whacked it out in a matter of months, but who cares? This time last week only two albums were listed on My Bloody Valentine’s Wikipedia Discography. Now, there’s three. All feels right in the world.
With a beatific grin on my face and a wonderful ringing in my ears, I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate the scene that celebrates itself. My Bloody Valentine are the godhead of the holy trinity of shoegaze. They, along with Ride and Slowdive, will always be the first names plucked from the ether when talking about the sort of bands that defined and popularised the effects-heavy strain of guitar music in the early nineties. It’s the sort of music that was so richly textured that guitarists onstage would seldom have time to look up from their intimidating array of effects pedals spread before their shoes. I just bet that the term “shoegaze” was initially supposed to be derogatory. If not, it almost certainly elicited a few groans from those who groan at the desperate labels that critics insist upon attaching to music.
But it stuck, and now “shoegaze” is one of those evocative terms that, like prog and psychedelica, immediately plunges those who know into an entire world of warming sounds and dangerous volumes. However, unlike prog and psychedelica – two vague genres in which “you just know it when you hear it” – it’s very easy to pinpoint as to what makes the shoegaze sound. Look for an obsessive devotion to layered textures with corresponding hushed vocals almost buried in the mix. And those layers, by the way, need not necessarily have been created by guitar. In the past few decades a few of our laptop-toting friends have demonstrated that you can create an equally dreamy set of dynamics using synths and electronics.
So what’s this list? Think of it as the results of me rediscovering certain areas of my music collection having my passion for this sort of thing rekindled by the new My Bloody Valentine album. Or perhaps we could use this as a springboard to share the sort of hazy sounds we love so much from beyond the “classics”. For, as anyone will tell you, shoegaze doesn’t end with My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Slowdive. Nor is it the sole remit of the nineties.
So as not to muddy the waters with such horrible terms as “protogaze”, I’m going to focus on the nineties and beyond for this list. However, if you want to begin this sonic journey with a look at where the roots of this beautiful sound arguably lie, look no further than Sister Ray by The Velvet Underground:
That done, let us commence our exploration into this vast cathedral of sound. Listed alongside each song will be a further song by the same band (or musician) as a recommended “next step” should you wish to take your travels further.
A word of warning, though. Music of this nature often inspires the worst excesses in music writing. I apologise in advance for any nonsensical metaphors or unwieldy strings of adjectives. If ever the words of a music writer make you shake your head in disbelief, it’s only because they’re struggling to put into words what they hear. Whether this is a testament to the power of the music or the lousiness of the writing is an argument for another day. My advice is to put on some headphones, turn up the volume, press play and shut up.
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