Preface: This is the first piece in a hopefully semester-long column about “classic” albums from the late 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century. Classics, in this sense, to be defined as albums considered either especially “good” or “influential” either at the time of release or today. These are usually albums that break artistic molds or come to exemplify their genre in that time period. Particularly, the albums for this column are gravitated towards by the modern era of internet-savvy music forums and considered “mandatory” or “must-listens.” None of these will be considered obscure music by any stretch of the imagination, even if they’re not necessarily topping the charts. You’ll likely have heard music from all of these artists, or have heard music influenced by them, knowingly or not. To call any of the albums to follow “underground” would be like putting on music that your friends “probably haven’t heard of before” only to play the Arctic Monkeys and Tame Impala.
"Loveless" by My Bloody Valentine
"Loveless" is the 1991 breakout album from the Dublin-based rock band My Bloody Valentine, fronted by Bilinda Butcher and Kevin Shields. The album has come to define the alternative rock and dream pop subgenre “shoegaze,” named after the need for their performers to look down at their complex setups of effects pedals and distortion machines during live shows. The band also features Debbie Googe, the bassist, and Colm Ó Cíosóig, the drummer and co-producer, along with Kevin Shields.
As opposed to traditional song structure or “normal” rock sounds, My Bloody Valentine hides their songs behind a distinctive “wall of sound” production, preferring the ambiance of how their different reverbs and distortions play off of the guitars as opposed to simply hearing the guitars in the first place. The same can be said of the vocals. Though hushed and (frankly) a little too quiet behind the blanket of echoing guitars, their whispers add just enough interest as well as providing a more dynamic and flowing element for your ears to follow throughout the song. Though only a couple songs come through with notable singing — the opener “Only Shallow,” the closer “Soon,” and the standout psuedo-ballad “Sometimes” — the vocal efforts of Butcher and Shields cannot be understated. Though their vocals played a more significant role on their more pop-y previous albums and EPs, "Loveless" wouldn’t be nearly as good with out-of-place clear and bright vocals. Or, at the very least, it wouldn’t be what it is today.
The drumming by Ó Cíosóig throughout the album is also immaculate, best exemplified by the uncharacteristically clear but incredibly sharp drum fill to kick off the album’s opener.
Anecdotally, "Loveless" is a perfect example of an album that sounds exactly like its album cover looks. The cover itself is a blurry guitar covered in visual filters and distortion effects. It might take the viewer a second to actually see and recognize a guitar, but once you reach that point you begin to appreciate it as an unorthodox picture with a neat and compelling aesthetic. However, if you start with the picture looking exclusively for what you know to be a guitar and wouldn’t want anything other than what you know to be a “normal” guitar, then — as with in the music — you’ll be disappointed and miss out on a genre-defining album.