An excellent write up via BearzUnlimited's thread...
My Bloody Valentine
1991 - Loveless
Loveless. An album that basically defined an entire genre. An album that influenced countless other bands ever since its release. An album that truly sounds like nothing else before or after - it has its imitators, sure, but none of them perfectly capture exactly what made Loveless unique.
So what is "shoegaze," anyway? Well, you could probably do a quick Google search, or I dunno, look it up on Wikipedia or something I guess and get a more accurate answer. For the sake of convenience, however, I'll make my best attempt at defining it here. Shoegaze generally sits somewhere between dream pop and noise rock - you might want a definition for those, too, but the names of those genres are descriptive enough that you can probably kinda sorta figure out what they sound like. To sum it up using semi-cliche terms, shoegaze usually takes a pretty pop song and layers it with heavy production and guitar effects, turning it into kind of a wall of sound, or a blur of noise. But it's not like a grating kind of noise that makes you go graaahh turn it off it hurts etc. It's more like a nice, lovely ocean of noise that surrounds and envelops you. It's the musical embodiment of a hazy daydream.
Actually, the most accurate way to describe what this album (and most shoegaze in general) sounds like is to tell you to just look at the album cover. It sounds like the cover. It's probably the most accurate album art ever.
This album has all sorts of crazy stories surrounding its production and interesting ideas that were used to give its distinct sound. Perhaps the most well-known aspect of it is how it's said to have gone far over-budget and over-time, with all sorts of exaggerated rumors about its exorbitant cost to record. The reality of it is that Kevin Shields, essentially the band's primary creative force, is something of a lazy perfectionist. Though the album took a long time to produce, a lot of that time was wasted or simply unused. However, when it was being worked on, Shields slaved over every aspect of the record to make sure it sounded absolutely exactly how he envisioned it, and the band used many innovative - or just plain weird - techniques throughout the recording. Most notable is Shields' usage of the tremolo bar as he strummed the guitar, causing the strings to bend and out of tune, with an overall effect that made many effects pedals and guitar layering techniques, commonly found in the shoegaze genre, unnecessary. On the more interesting side is how Shields and fellow guitarist/singer Bilinda Butcher would be woken up early in the morning to record vocals, resulting in an intentionally less clear and more indistinct vocal sound, with deliberately ambiguous lyrics.
Admittedly, by and large this album probably isn't the most challenging to play if you only care about the charts themselves, but it's really a musical experience like no other, and that's what makes it fun. I don't really know what else to say about it, so hopefully those who already know this record will be pleased, and those of you who don't will have a wonderous first experience with it!
Note this album frequently blurs the lines between shoegaze, noise pop, and dream pop, so the genres shown in the visualizers are arguable and slightly arbitrary.
"Only Shallow" (BearzUnlimited)
Four snare hits, and then a screaming riff. This opener immediately hits the listener with the manifesto of what this album is all about, encapsulated in its most "rocking" song that also happens to be quite accessible to new listeners. This song trudges along at a heavy, slow tempo, alternating between the heavy and noisy riff section, taking the place of a traditional chorus, and its dreamy and melodic verses sung by Bilinda Butcher. Capping it off is a beautifully hazy guitar coda.
Loveless is known primarily for its guitar textures and sound, so it's not too surprising that guitar is probably the most interesting instrument here. The main riff features slow 16th note tremolo strumming, while the verses consist of 2-note chords with a mix of 8th and 16th notes, as well as some bend-y HOPO chords here and there.
The bass part is easy but decently fun, with a cool ascending line during the main riff sections. The verses also feature a mix of 8th and 16th single notes, following a similar progression to the guitar chords.
The drum part is quite simple, consisting of a simple 8-beat on the ride cymbal with a fairly constant kick pattern. There are various easy fills thrown in throughout, as well as a few snares in between ride hits.
The vocal melody, again, is not difficult to sing, and if you enjoy the song you're naturally likely to enjoy the vocal part as well. There is a neat harmony part doing background "ooh"s as well. Note that there is no official lyric source for any of these songs, and with the album sounding the way it does, it's hard to really know what the singer is saying. While some songs had what sounded like an accurate transcription (as far as listeners can tell) on lyric sites, other songs had to be pieced together from various sources, all of which had some parts that sounded right and others that were off.
One of the mellower and shorter songs on the record, this song has a guitar sound that feels like it's constantly somewhere in between airy and pounding, between tuneful and dissonant. The whole song, really, feels both blissful and melancholy at the same time. It stays at a fairly constant tempo and dynamic, with vocals and keyboards (though less a keyboard than a sound, really - though it's actually sampled from warped guitar noise, you can't quite put a finger on what it sounds like) drifting in and out. Like most songs from this album, it doesn't have a real chorus, but rather an instrumental hook melody that here sounds otherworldly.
This song has a fairly interesting keyboard part, with the intro (and other similar sections) all having totally different patterns from one another. They stay around the same few notes, but the "melody" kind of glides up and down and never really sticks to a beat. It takes the lead in the hook, and though here it plays the same each time, it's still a pretty cool part.
The vocals consists of two short verses that follow a similar line. There's nothing particularly special about the part, aside from it being a really pretty melody. The only harmony is literally just one note.
The rest of the instrument parts are not very noteworthy. The guitar part consists of constant 16th note strumming (at a slow tempo) of both two and three-note chords, though the way the ascending chords match the hook melody is pretty cool. The bass is also just 16th strumming, and the drum part is a constant slow roll on the floor tom for the entire song.
This song is an oddball on this album for various reasons. Unlike the other songs on the album, this track has a kind-of-experimental electronic sound, and it's only about a minute long. The first half of the song alternates between a dissonant "verse" section with loud synths, and a smoother "chorus" featuring heavy synth-strings creating an almost orchestral effect. The second half slows things down and drops the minimal drum track, solely featuring the strings. This song was actually composed and performed solely by the drummer, Colm Ó Cíosóig, and together with the drums in "Only Shallow" made up his only live contributions to the album due to him dealing illness and homelessness at the time. However, the other songs did feature sampled drum tracks assembled from patterns that he was able to play despite his problems.
The keys track is fairly tricky in this synth-focused song. The main "melody" features difficult, quick groups of notes due to the pitch modulation, and the chorus is made up of tricky broken chords. The drums, on the other hand, are a very simple beat played on two toms. Think "29 Fingers" but easier and it doesn't play for half the song.
"To Here Knows When" (BearzUnlimited)
This, to me, is one of the most perfect pieces of music ever recorded. A massive swirl of noise with beautiful sounds and melodies everywhere. Remember how I described shoegaze as being a "lovely ocean of noise"? Well, this song is truly the epitome of that description. The track immediately grabs your attention with its shimmering synth melody. Then you're dropped into the verse, where you get your first taste of the gorgeous, dreamy vocal melodies, shrouded by clouds of guitar noise that's almost entirely removed from any sound you'd normally expect to hear from a guitar. The chorus continues this as more layers of vocals and keyboards enter, the guitar begins to take a more harmonious sound, and the vocal melody is 50 times prettier than the second-prettiest thing you've heard. The outro just drones on and on, but despite that, you still don't want it to end; you want it to go on forever because it's the most beautiful sound you've ever heard. And while you could more accurately replace every "you" (or variant thereof) with "I," "me," "my," "etc.," it doesn't change that "you" could be YOU if you give this a listen.
The keyboard part is probably the most varied and fun instrument in this song. The striking intro melody, which reprises itself at a couple other points in the song, consists of fast 16ths across different note. The verses are more relaxed, with quick pairs of 16th notes sprinkled throughout. The chorus is the highlight, featuring a mix of arpeggiated 8th and 16th notes, which never seem to repeat the same pattern twice.
The guitar part is almost entirely made up of moderately fast 16th strumming of different 2-note chords - fast enough to be a bit tricky, but still fairly laid-back. The ending is mostly unrelated to the next, a slower but more varied riff that plays distorted and alone.
Bass and drums are quite simplistic. The drum rhythm is neat, with slightly fast double kicks and snare ghost notes in between, but it repeats the same way throughout the whole song. The bass part is 16th strumming just like guitar, but on single notes.
Vocals are a similar story throughout the album - if you like the song, you'll like singing those lovely melodies (though the ending might get repetitive). Interesting to note is the second harmony part, which might go unnoticed even if you're very familiar with the song and album. It contributes some high background "hoo"s and echoes of the lead melody in the bridge and outro.
"When You Sleep" (DemonUnicorns)
If you only end up liking one song from the album (which would be a shame, by the way), it would almost certainly be this one (or "Sometimes," but I'll get to that later). This song would be pop perfection on its own, but the added textures and effect common across the whole record elevate it to an even higher level. It's a fast-paced, upbeat rocker, and there's basically two alternating sections to it - the hook, where the keyboard takes a high lead melody and the guitar kicks it up a notch too, and the lovably catchy verse. To many listeners, this song sounds like Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher are singing together, but it's actually just many takes of Kevin alone, some sped up and some slowed down, creating an indistinguishable voice. This effect originated from Shields' frustration over not being able to record a perfect take; as it turns out, the perfect take turned out to be all of them combined.
The keys part has that iconic synth melody to play in the main hook of the song, and there's another different bit that appears between the first and second verses. Sadly, there's nothing to actually play during the verses.
This song's guitar part is entirely on a basis of 8th note chord strumming, but there are many variations in the rhythm, and a bunch of quick 16ths mixed in as well. Easy, but it keeps you engaged.
That last sentence applies to the other parts as well. Drums play a 8-beat on the ride cymbal throughout, with frequent kicks whenever there's not a snare. There's also a bunch of fairly tricky snare and tom rolls all over the song, which brings the difficulty up relative to the other parts.
The bassline is basically 8th note strumming throughout the song, but there are some quick HOPO triplets in the main riff/hook section.
The vocal melody in the verses is mostly repetitive, but it's such a great melody that it's fun every time. Difficulty-wise, it's not hard, but there are a couple tricky slides in there.
"I Only Said" (DemonUnicorns)
This is one of the more dancey, electronic-influenced songs on the album. It moves along at a slow pace, with a groovy sampled drum pattern that keeps your head bobbing along. Above that drum beat floats the album's trademark dreamily noisy guitar chords, that waver in and out of tune thanks to Shields' signature tremolo bar usage. The hazy, breathy, androgynous vocals have similarly layered octaves to "When You Sleep." And of course, it's a perfect example of the guitar sounds being turned into synth-like parts (as I described with "Loomer"), with that striking OOooOO ooOOoo hook (you'll know what I mean when you hear it).
While in some cases, the quasi-synth-but-actually-guitar sounds were charted to keys, here they've been charted to guitar. Of course, there's that aforementioned OOooOO ooOOoo part that plays as a neat, slidey HOPO riff. The verses feature an eclectic mix of 8th and 16th note strumming of both 2 and 3 note chords, changing frequently throughout the song. The bridge has a slight variation with a quick 16th note melody alternating between two colors.
Similar to guitar, the bass part has a mix of 8ths and 16th note pattern that vary heavily between sections. There's also a bunch of little 16th note HOPO bits that help make it more interesting. Also worth noting, sound-wise, that the verses take a peculiarly high-pitched and prominent approach.
Being a sampled pattern, the drums will naturally be pretty repetitive in this song. It's still a cool beat, filled with hi-hat triple-hits and in-between snares, and it also has frequent snare rolls.
Easy vocals part again with octave harmonies, though the verses have an unusual structure to them. The "if you like the song, you'll like singing it" rule applies yet again.
"Come in Alone" (DemonUnicorns)
A slow, heavier rocker, in a similar vein to "Only Shallow." However, this one's slightly more on the dreamy side compared to that song, with a guitar riff that's not quite as dissonant and loud. Like that song, there's a guitar-led distorted riff and a vocal-led, woozier and melodic verse. The vocals have a particularly feminine sound despite being sung by Kevin, and they sound bigger than they are even though there's no harmony part.
The guitar part features that weird lead riff, which certainly has one of the most unique sounds that's come out of a guitar. In addition to the main hook, there's also a short reprise in the middle of the verses. It's a rather slow single-note melody, but it's played slightly differently each time, adding more variety. The verses, like many songs on this album, contain 16th note chord strumming, though this one has breaks in the strum pattern.
On the bass, the verses have a similar mix of 16th and 8th note strumming, though it's one of the more interesting variations on this trend throughout the album. The bass takes more prominence in the hook, with a heavy bassline alternating between two low notes.
Remember how I described "Only Shallow" on drums? Well, this is basically the same kind of thing.
The spacey keys part only plays during the hooks, and it only uses three notes, but the pattern is constantly changing similar to the keys from "To Here Knows When," so it's still a neat part.
Like the other songs, the vocal part is not hard, though the melody often moves in slightly unusual ways, and every once in a while there's a tricky run across several notes.
If you only end up liking one song from the album (which would be a shame, by the way), it would almost certainly be this one (or "When You Sleep," but I'll get to that earlier-- wait fuck that doesn't make sense). This one is easily the most mellow and melodious song on the album, being almost entirely focused on Kevin Shields' guitar and voice. The song has a distinct, prominent guitar sound that includes layered acoustic and electric guitars, giving the song a feel that's simultaneously gritty and dreamy. The vocals are the most vulnerable on the whole album, being sung by Shields alone and being relatively effects-free, giving the whole song a far more intimate feel than the rest.
The guitar part is made up entirely of 3-note chord strumming, but with every verse having a slightly different strumming pattern that keeps it fairly interesting. It's probably a pretty good voxtar song, though I wouldn't know since I can't grasp singing and playing (or even talking and playing) at the same time.
Each of the verses has a similar melody on vocals, and while there's not a whole lot of range, the line glides pleasingly and smoothly between different notes with a bunch of little slides mixed in.
The keys part doesn't play for a large portion of the song, but it enters in the third verse and continues on through the fourth verse and the instrumental outro. It's a slow melody with lots of sustains, but it has a beautiful flute-like sound.
The bass part is just 8th note strumming for the entire song, and it's pretty buried underneath the guitars. The drum part is just constant 8th note kicks with a hi-hat on every beat. That hi-hat note is actually a hi-hat pedal click, but the drummer animations have them hitting the hi-hat since not having any hand animations makes them do the weird glitchy hands-in-the-air thing and it looked ridiculous.
"Blown a Wish" (DemonUnicorns)
This is likely the album's most airy, dreamy song aside from "To Here Knows When." It's similarly pretty compared to that song, but more vocals-focused and with less noisy guitar textures obscuring it. The guitars never really have a distinct guitar-like sound, but instead sound almost like synth as they float above the music. The drum beat is a sampled pattern akin to "I Only Said," which also gives this song a slightly electronic-influenced feel, though it has slightly more variation than that song. The vocals here are perhaps Bilinda Butcher at her most angelic, with a very delicate and fragile sound.
This song's guitar part plays quite similarly to "To Here Knows When," featuring 16th chord strumming at about the same tempo, making it fast enough to be engaging without being overbearingly difficult.
On drums, the sampled patterns is primarily based off of a simple 8-beat on the hi-hat, but the third beat of every measure has a quick open hi-hat following the on-beat closed hat. Like "I Only Said," there's frequent snare rolls that help make the part more interesting.
The bass on this song is not challenging, but it has an unusually melodic, almost lead-like feel to it. There's frequent slides and a bunch of quick little HOPO runs throughout the song.
The vocal part is one of the more difficult in the pack. The lead vocal has its moments, with little variations in the verses and that tricky run with the "ooh" at the end of each verse. The harmony part has "ooh"s in the verses that are quite long and have quite a bit of range to them, and they also have a constant repeating melody between said verses.
"What You Want" (BearzUnlimited)
This song is to "When You Sleep" as "Only Shallow" is to "Come in Alone." In this case, it's "When You Sleep"'s noisier cousin. It's also an upbeat pop/rock song underneath (mind, minus the rather melancholic lyrics), but with a very raw and noisy production style that borders on lo-fi despite there actually being a whole lot going on in the mix. The song's main riff features a prominent and dissonant guitar part that makes heavy usage of the tremolo bar. There's also a pretty keyboard lead, also similar to "When You Sleep," that sounds vaguely like some kind of wind instrument. The verses are also catchy and dreamy, as you'd expect.
The guitar on this track is possibly the most fun out of the whole pack. The main riff features lots of quick chord changes and chord HOPOs emulating the tremolo bends, and it's very entertaining to play. The verse pattern is standard 8th note strumming with constant changes in the pattern.
On keys, even though that keyboard lead consists of mostly long sustains, the way it kind of drifts along without really sticking to a regular beat makes it still a cool part. There's also a long coda where the keyboard alone plays for quite a while.
The vocal melody again sits at a great sweet spot of being not very difficult, but still an interesting and fun melody. There's also quite prominent background "oohs" that get quite long, with a few slides.
Bass here is just 8th note strumming throughout with a few short sustains, so nothing really special.
The drums are quite similar to "When You Sleep," with a similar ride 8-beat at a similar pace, with snare rolls from time to time.
Compared to the other songs on this album, this one feels almost kind of normal, like it pulls you out of the dream that the rest of the songs threw you into. This song is awesomely danceable, with a killer sampled drumbeat that drives the song along. Throughout the song, it kind of feels like you're plunging in and out of an ocean. You're bouncing along to the beat, with that sprightly not-really-keyboard melody going on, and then suddenly the verse hits and there's a wall of guitars and those sensual, slightly unsettling vocals start to enter. While the song's extended outro sticks to the bright and clear sound, there's still those constantly repeating "haa"s in the background that feel like they're trying to call you back into the dream and dive into the album once again.
For one last time, let's jump into the guitar part first. Like almost all the other songs, it primarily alternates between two patterns. One of them is the "keyboard" melody mentioned before, which plays as a fun albeit rather repetitive HOPO-based pattern. During the verses, you have the album's fastest 16th strumming on mostly 3-note chords, so you'll enjoy watching the masses of points roll in when you activate overdrive.
The bassline in this song is one of the most active and interesting of all the songs here. While the verses do have the standard, varied 8th-strumming fare, the hook sections have a really cool riff that bounces all across the frets with little groups of 16th notes mixed in.
While, yes, the drums are the same beat repeated throughout the song, it's such a great rhythm that you may still have fun with it regardless. It's based on a hi-hat 8-beat, but with quick double- and in-between-kicks as well as frequent snares between the hi-hats.
You should know what to expect from vocals at this point, given my descriptions for all the previous songs. This one has a bit more emphasis on holding out longer notes.
I thought this reminded me of MBV's Loveless. You and Bearz are the real MVPs of the MBV. Thank you so much.
You're welcome! This project was a blast to make. Those venues, let's just say Harmonix provided video effects tailored-made for an album like this!