My Bloody Valentine put out just as much music — okay, more — in the ’80s as they did in the ’90s. And yet it’s hard to imagine both rock music and pop music in the ’90s without them. Their mix of gauze and sheer muscle, not to mention towering beauty, may seem watered down slightly by imitators now, but when MBV was cranking out EPs and classic records, no one sounded quite like them. As time has gone on, we’ve focused a lot of our talk about My Bloody Valentine on a) the album Loveless and b) how they are the godfathers of shoegaze. But with the recent reissue campaign, giving us remastered versions of Isn’t Anything and Loveless along with the 2-disc EPs 1988-1991 collection, we’ve got a chance to look at some of the gems in their catalog that may have gone unnoticed or got overshadowed by later work. Here’s seven darker corners in the band’s canon that are worth wandering into:
“I Need No Trust” (“Feed Me With Your Kiss” single, 1988)
We get just a glimpse of what My Bloody Valentine would become on this song, and it has more to do with their earlier experiments in texture without the later focus on songcraft. This, though, stands as the most sturdily built of the early songs. Shields and Butcher have the distortion cranking for sure, but there’s also clear shape to all of this, to the shearing lead riff and the zombie-trudge of chords under it. It’s a song that stomps along and takes its own sweet time yet never sounds slack. Later songs filled up the space around them, but “I Need No Trust” pushes forward and takes on mass as it does, like some kind of musical magnet. It grows but never stagnates, it moves but never picks up speed. It’s unto itself, and it’s excellent.
“Thorn” (You Made Me Realise, 1988)
That first screeching riff has Kevin Shields’ name all over it. But more than that, it draws an interesting line back to the surf-rock of folks like Dick Dale. “Thorn” doesn’t go to the beach, though, so much as it wanders through the shadows of skyscrapers. There’s a distinctly city feel to the song, and yet under its cool metallic vibe there are warm, jangling guitars, and Shields’ own sweet vocals. It’s a powerful rock tune, and one of the finest pure pop tunes in the My Bloody Valentine canon. You can’t argue they got louder after this, but whether they ever did better on a single song is worth debating.
“Lose My Breath” (Isn’t Anything, 1988)
This is one of the darker tracks on this album, and leaves more space for its sounds than pretty much any other My Bloody Valentine song you’ll ever hear. But on an album that stands as the band’s most shimmerly beautiful effort — they would get louder from here on Glider and Tremolo and, of course, on Loveless — this is as plainly gorgeous as the band ever got. The album will surprise you now with its moments of clarity, but “Lose My Breath” — from Bilinda Butcher’s airy vocals on down — finds a haunting middle ground between that clarity and the band’s usual atmospherics. It will not overpower you the way “Glider” will, but that’s the point. This isn’t an onslaught, it’s a steady campaign of sounds. It’s a song that sneaks up on you, works its way under your skin, and so when Butcher “oohs” her way through the end of the song over that bed of guitars, you feel yourself lulled into the world of the song. It’s fuzzy pop at it’s very finest.
“Instrumental No. 1” (Isn’t Anything Bonus 7-inch, 1988)
This is one of the best songs brought back to light by EPs 1988-1991. Originally just an extra for buyers of Isn’t Anything, now it’s a key song for the band. It’s importance lies not in the fact that is a blistering rock song, made with all the fury and energy we expect from the band, but rather in how we hear it a bit differently here. Everything on the official records feels carefully constructed, puzzled over and reworked and reworked again. For all the chaos of noise, it’s all very much under control. So there’s an off-the-cuff immediacy to “Instrumental No. 1” that lays the band’s impressive chemistry bare. If this took all the layering and effort that, say “Only Swallow” did, you can’t hear it here. My Bloody Valentine sounds like the band is letting loose here, and while they never lose control, that loss is right on the edge of these sharp guitars, that rumbling bass, those ever-rolling snares.
“Glider (Full Length Version)” (“Soon” single, 1991)
As the title track to a 1990 EP, “Glider” was a hypnotic, tense squall of guitar, the kind of thing that let us know that when Loveless arrived in November 1991, it was going to be a monster. But the circular, jagged guitar phrasings the band made their name on get blown up into epic, nearly maddening heights on this full-length take. The song goes on for over ten minutes and it achieves something very difficult. It pushes you, dares you to skip ahead as the mix stretches to the four- and then five-minute mark. But then all the buzzing difficulty of the song opens up and there you are, lost in its barbed hooks, spinning around you again and again, as if they won’t ever end. When they finally do, you kind of want them back.
“Moon Song” (Tremolo, 1991)
All of Tremolo, which now sounds like a connected preamble to Loveless, exists on its own astral plane, but none of the songs are quite as striking in their ethereal nature as “Moon Song.” Wobbling guitars and distant voices mix, spare percussion taps out a dry rhythm in the background, and Shields half-forms every phrase he utters over the fray. It’s a convincing sonic equivalent to floating in space, and yet it’s not quite as borderless as it makes itself out to be. By song’s end, when you realize the guitars have been steadily, if slightly, swelling, you don’t feel like you’ve drifted aimlessly. It’s a song with its own deliberate propulsion, and even against classic songs like “Soon,” it stands as a high-water mark on Tremolo.
“Sugar” (“Only Shallow” single, French pressing, 1991)
“Sugar” wouldn’t have fit on Loveless since it doesn’t shimmer and grind quite as loudly or fully as anything there, but it’s a curious and wonderful counterpoint to that record. The weird subterranean electronic beat — which sounds like some muffled thump inside you, something almost dyspeptic but not quite — sets a more open foundation than most MBV songs and over it the guitars jangle rather than bunch up. In some ways, it’s just a basic pop song, the kind of straight-ahead structure and execution the band always managed to complicate. But for all its simplicity, it really wins you over when those high whistling notes come in at the end, as a final cascading layer on a stripped-down tune. My Bloody Valentine was never much for lean sounds, and though they come close here, it’s the ways they make it murky and theirs that make this one stand out.
So there are a few lesser traveled avenues in the musical terrain of My Blood Valentine. You might notice there aren’t any tracks from Loveless here. Well, that’s where you come in. What do you think is the best hidden gem on that classic record? What other My Bloody Valentine songs should we pay more attention to? Let us know in the comments.
The reissues of Loveless and Isn’t Anything, along with EPs 1988-1991 are all available now.