It is time for the highly anticipated second round of my journey through /mu/‘s favorite albums. Everyone wants to know if I’m going to like King Crimson — I hope their cover of Kanye West’s Power is up to par.
I had been looking forward to this album for a long time. Toward the end of last year, I got into shoegaze music (mostly through Slowdive and Blind Mr. Jones¹), and I have quickly turned into a big fan. I see shoegaze as a spiritual sibling to post-rock: their origins are slightly different, but they developed at roughly the same time, and share many things in common. Both genres are introspective, and their sound has a lot of depth — there are a lot of layers and little things going that engage the listener to really listen (if he wants to).
As for My Bloody Valentine, they were one of the first shoegaze bands, and Loveless is one of the genre’s most well-known albums. It was only a mater of time before I got around to listening to it. Having now done so, my reaction is that it is a very good album, but not a great album. This conclusion is reached by judging it with its contemporaries along with albums that it influenced. In my opinion, a truly great album can hold up against a timeless comparison. The problem with Loveless is that not a single song really stood out, or made me go “wow” while listening to it.
According to a book written about the album that Wikipedia uses as a nearly exclusive source, nearly every effect heard on Loveless was done manually. A lot of the weird noises and chorus sounds were done entirely via the tremolo bar on the guitar. The lead guitarist seemed to take a principled stand against the use of pedals and other digital manipulation, but I can’t help but feel that the end result bears no indication on the attention to detail that went into the album’s production. He went about recording this album as if it were a symphony, but really he just made a shoegaze album.
I’m hesitant to call it a “standard” or “typical” shoegaze album, because a lot of its sounds are actually atypical, but at the same time, I struggle to find anything about the album (from a listener’s standpoint) that warrants putting it above all the rest. If we take one of My Bloody Valentine’s most popular tracks off the album, Only Shallow, and compare it to one of Slowdive’s (who is one of their contemporaries) most popular tracks, When The Sun Hits, you’ll see that the differences are mostly aesthetic. MBV is a more aggressive band on Loveless than Slowdive is on Souvlaki. Their songs are more distorted, Slowdive’s are more airy. Both bands capture the dreary, rainy-day “feel” of shoegaze quite well. The relative merits of these qualities are up for opinion. I’d say if there is one thing MBV has over Slowdive in this comparison, it is that every song on Loveless is good, whereas Souvlaki is more hit or miss. The hits are better than Loveless, the misses are worse.
The complaint I’m making is really more of a nit-picky one, because shoegaze as a genre is one of the best in rock music, and both albums are quite good. I just think that while Loveless deserves credit for its influential role in the genre, I can’t give it credit for being “the greatest.”
I’m going to keep this one short, because I’ve already posted my thoughts on Burial in great detail. This is more of a reminder to anyone who has not listened to Untrue that you are missing out on what is truly one of the greatest electronic albums ever written. This, too, is a highly influential album that has inspired producers from garages all the way up to professional studios².
Despite the imitations, it really is a one-of-a-kind album. Even Burial’s later work doesn’t sound the same. The ability to effectively convey emotion through music is the hallmark of a great artist in any genre, and Burial has that ability. If Archangel isn’t one of your top electronic tracks, then seriously, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Please explain yourself in the comments below.
The thing that immediately struck me about this album was how bizarre it is. I have limited experience with new wave music³, and perhaps this made the experience more surprising than it should have been. Nonetheless, I was impressed with the album.
It is a very up-tempo, poppy, “bouncy” album in my opinion. A lot of albums with a happy mood are usually not very interesting musically, but Talking Heads do quite a good job in that realm. The main and bass guitars set up several layers of funky riffs, the percussion features a wide array of sounds, and the songs manage to avoid becoming boring. It is not that they are unpredictable (they follow straight-forward song progressions), but there is enough going on in the tracks that it warrants multiple listens to really start piecing it all together. On the first listen, I had no idea what was going on.
Part of this is attributable to the lead vocalist, who is also quite odd compared to the rest of the vocalists reviewed recently. I have an inclination toward very emotive music, or music that sounds like it is being taken seriously. I don’t find that Talking Heads are a very emotive band (at least on this album), partly because of the tone, but mainly because the vocalist has a very quirky style. He sings in a weird voice about weird things — it could perhaps remind people of Primus or They Might Be Giants.
This behavior sacrifices some expressiveness, but it makes up for it in personality. That, as a matter of fact, is a bit of a rarity. A lot of vocalists, in being so direct and expressive, become an indistinguishable part of the overall sound and feel of the music. What Talking Heads’ vocalist does results in him standing out. He walks a delicate line of sounding out-of-place and sounding necessary. Whether or not this is superior to vocalists who serve more as an instrument is a matter of opinion. For my part, I think there is a lot of artistry in what Talking Heads did here.
My two favorite songs off the album are Once In A Lifetime and Born Under Punches. I think they are the best two tracks on the album, and they also provide a good demonstration of how the album sounds overall. If you enjoy them, you will certainly enjoy the album.
According to folk hero and rock critic Robert Christgau, this album is “ersatz shit.” I mostly disagree, although I understand his sentiment. The album sounds like a lot of things, but it doesn’t seem to have its own sound. 21st Century Schizoid Man is reminiscent of doom metal and bebop. Epitaph has classical and folk elements. It actually comes across like a James Bond theme. This album was one of the first prog rock albums, but I can’t help but feel that its contributions to the genre were not as great as some people say.
Indeed, speaking nothing of how different progressive rock sounds today, even King Crimson’s contemporaries were more experimental, challenging, and interesting than King Crimson are with this album. People give Pink Floyd a lot of shit, but “The Dark Side of the Moon” is a more experimental album than ITCOTCK. So are albums like “Aqualung” by Jethro Tull, and “Octopus” by Gentle Giant.
In a similar fashion to how I felt about Loveless, I find that this album doesn’t really hold up against its competition. Furthermore, I wonder if a lot of the hype surrounding this album in recent years has been due to the spike it received from being sampled by Kanye West in his 2010 single, “Power”. There are certainly people who enjoyed King Crimson beforehand, and their discography is much bigger than this one album, but you have to wonder.
It is a nice album. It is an ok album. It is a forgettable album. The cover art is more remarkable than the music.
- My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
- I liked the album, but felt that there was nothing particularly exemplary about it in comparison to other albums in the same genre
- Burial – Untrue
- I loved the album, because it tries new things and successfully develops a bond with the listener
- Talking Heads – Remain in Light
- I liked the album, because it is very unusual while still being very listenable
- King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King
- I liked the album, but find it to be an unremarkable entry in the genre
Part three looks to be quite interesting, with two intensely popular hip-hop albums, a notable emo album I’ve actually failed to listen to as of yet, and one of the most influential post-rock albums of all time.
¹Shoutout to Dereck Higgins for the suggestion. I doubt I would have discovered the band without watching his videos. For anyone who wants a less-annoying Anthony Fantano, this is the guy.
²Disclosure is perhaps the most famous group that I hear evidence of Burial’s sound in their tracks.
³My mother’s favorite band is The Cars, and that is about all I can think of off the top of my head