My Bloody Valentine
m b v
By Joel Elliott | 18 February 2013
“she found now.”
By now it has become the stuff of myth, our generation’s version of the Mesopotamian story where the gods destroy humanity because the noise is keeping them awake at night. It comes in the middle of “You Made me Realise,” the single that transformed the band and now closes out every performance. Appropriately—or tastelessly—it’s called the “Holocaust section”: 15-30 minutes of a single chord, feedbacking into oblivion. The amps are turned up loud enough that the band hardly needs to do anything, all the sonic dirt kicked up over the course of the set just lingering in the air. At the end they exit the stage entirely, leaving the ghost in the machine with the last laugh. Call it a paean to anonymity, or a radical abandonment of the band’s own perfectionism, or a gimmick if you like, but one thing it isn’t is an experience you can get anywhere else. If you’ve ever tried to Youtube this phenomenon, you’ll get a frustratingly dull or peaked-out mess that might as well be a title card over a black screen reading “You Weren’t Here.” In an age of ceaseless reproduction, MBV crafted an experience that lived only offline, in the body.
[This is how you pick up where you left off twenty-two years ago—the weight of time seems to bear down on Shields’s guitar strings, the bridge barely holding onto the body. For all that it still celebrates the persistence of levity; it bobs buoyantly while its anchor scrapes dirt on the ocean floor.]
By now the myth of the man has become so closely intertwined with the music, I often imagine those mysterious years following Loveless (1991)—when Kevin Shields supposedly fortified himself in his house and proceeded to drain hundreds of thousands from yet another label–as him living comfortably within that feedback, not even touching his guitar, just letting it speak to him.
Shields has a blend of fastidiousness and indifference to the outside world that seems refreshing these days: in a recent interview with the Quietus, he said: “The idea that it’s good to do stuff just for the sake of doing it…..it’s a lie.” In the middle of the recording sessions for Loveless (which took two years, eighteen engineers, and allegedly some $400,000 + the bankruptcy of Creation), he recounted spending three days carefully scraping the top layer of a scratchplate with a razor blade. The impossibility of Shields ever releasing something again is still so prevalent now that even upon the official release of m b v, when the band’s site crashed from thousands of attempted downloads, there were those who may have seriously contemplated whether the album really existed or not. The agony of anxious fans and record execs is too much a part of the myth.
[The registering of every change as a miracle of alchemy.]
“who sees you.”
Have you ever seen the slasher film of the band’s namesake? It’s about Valentine’s day dances and pick axes and revenge and mine shafts and love triangles. It may be an unfortunate reminder of the band’s derivative, gothy post-punk past, but it’s also the perfect reference for music that sees love as a severed heart in a Valentine’s Day box. Even without those album covers it’s hard to hear MBV the band as anything but the smearing of red on red, the pulsing, washed-out colours that you see when you close your eyes really tightly and stare into a bright light.
[When he asks “How does it feel?” it’s as rhetorical as when D’Angelo sang the same words, the flirtation of one who knows exactly how it feels because he’s the one creating the feeling.]
“is this and yes.”
MBV (and m b v) is feeling without emotion, intimacy without closeness, a dream of falling without ever hitting the ground. I empathize with Shield’s unproductivity: you want to find that rare mental space where you can work without laboring, make something expansive that isn’t constricted by its own intensive process, discover the drift.
[It sounds like someone fell asleep on an organ hooked up to a delay pedal in the most wonderful way. Dreams are logged in the brain through the frequencies, a morse code that can’t be translated in the waking world.]
“if i am.”
MBV gets called “feminine,” but the only legitimate reason for this seems to be that Shields is nominally a male, and the songs where he sings lead are barely distinguishable in terms of overall tone from those of Bilinda Butcher’s, at least post-Isn’t Anything (1988). MBV has no gender, and so they register as feminine in the masculine-by-default genre of rock.
[Either Butcher’s voice is soothing the instruments to sleep or vice-versa. Her voice trails off at the end of each line, which is as sexual as music gets, where thoughts trail off into pure bliss.]
Nobody seems to know when in the intervening decades this material was recorded, absolving m b v of the need to speak to anything contemporary. Thank ______.
[No one knows whether that sigh is a post-coital wisp of perfect contentment or a deep, lump-in-throat sublime gasp, or both. The chorus actually goes “Doo doo doo doo doo doo.” A whole album of this might be like the meringue without the pie, but then…]
“in another way.”
In terms of sheer decibel level, MBV is one of the loudest live bands on the planet, but both Loveless and m b v are mixed incredibly quiet. Unlike some music critics, I don’t listen to a lot of music at high volume, but paradoxically, I find myself constantly turning these albums up, wanting to inch closer to the sound. It feels dangerously seductive, hypnotizing, like gradually upping the dosage to lethal levels. Like Shields himself must have felt before he did permanent damage to his hearing by falling asleep for two hours listening to a rough mix of Loveless.
[I’d always heard that if you overlap two tones close together in a certain way, the resulting overtone would create new rhythms and illusions of rhythms based on the discretion between their corresponding wavelengths, but I’m not sure I ever was really aware of it before now.]
The word “noise” can be traced back to the Latin/English nausea, itself derived from the Greek nausíā, which originally described the feeling of seasickness specifically. In English nausea is uncountable, but the French still use it in the plural: avoir des nausées is best translated as “to have waves of nausea,” a sickness which rises and falls with the waves, whose very unpredictability is the nature of the sickness itself. Can you imagine a nausea that is constant, not associated with that sudden onslaught of dread documented in Sartre’s La Nausée? Likewise, can you imagine a noise that doesn’t breathe, pulse, tremble like Shields’s guitar?
[Finally, m b v’s nausea may also be about love, insofar as love isn’t so far from disgust, both feelings which arrive uninvited, tearing at the mind/body duality. So too with the “Holocaust” guitars: disembodied, alien, yet in the end, the most corporeal sensation possible. The feeling of being irreducible to words.]