My Bloody Valentine have made modern alternative rock a much more exciting place, I think there’s no denying it. They aren’t one of my absolute favourite groups but I’ve listened to all three of their albums multiple times as well as many of the B-sides and tunes from their EPs, enough I think to compile this reasonably confident list of shoegaze showstoppers, namely the eleven finest the group have given us (I originally aimed for a top ten, but making the cut was too difficult, so there’s an extra choice thrown in for good luck).
11 In Another Way
Stabs of guitar break through a sinister atmosphere of soaring synths that would seem more at home in an eighties pop video. MBV have adapted for 2013, but they haven’t changed.
10 You Made Me Realize
Gloating that I’ve sat through a video of a 30-minute performance of this 3-minute song seems perfunctory compared to the experience of the people who sat and listened to the Holocaust live, many of whom are deaf as a result. Listening to the studio version of the song, one gets a sense of its raw noise and explosive furor but none of the soulcrushing noise-drone of the live performances at their most extreme.
9 I Can See It (But I Can’t Feel It)
Closing their first LP with a harsh “Wake me up” plea is almost humorous, considering how loud the follow-up to Isn’t Anything would be in comparison. Though all MBV albums maintain that key element of sleepiness, none dwell quite as easily in a state of constant hypnagogia as the ’88 record, and the edgy darkness which permeates its latter half culminates uneasily here.
8 New You
As easily as it could’ve been a hit, New You could’ve been MBV‘s weakest track, by delving all too dangerously into… what’s this? Accessibility? Well, I’ll be damned! New You is a sweet, upbeat transitional piece which brings to mind Smashing Pumpkins on LSD or Lush on… more LSD. It’s addictive. The song, that is.
7 Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside)
The shortest song on this list, Soft As Snow opened Isn’t Anything with nervous promise and breathy, twisted backing vocals supporting Kevin Shields’ ode to a rosebud William Randolph Hearst would be envious of. As indulgent as the lyrics are, the track is an exciting opener and energetic in its carnal obsession.
6 Only Tomorrow
In its latter half, the best My Bloody Valentine track in 22 years descends into a slow-paced and controlled guitar frenzy of recurring riffs and hazy mists of melody that stop briefly for air at the end of each wondrous phrase and the result is a comedown from a buildup that is among the group’s finest. Insatiably listenable, it’s the m b v track I find myself returning to time and time again, if only for that latter half.
5 Only Shallow
I bet you were wondering where the Loveless tracks were. Well, lest I forget, I’ve included at wonderful five one of their most disorienting and translucent masterworks, an exercise in dragging, relentless riffs and airtight shoegaze production that, of course, isn’t sharp in this case, but as beautifully hazy as one could ask for from a genre-redefining album opener.
4 Lose My Breath
Returning momentarily to their somewhat underrated first album, Lose My Breath showcases Bilinda Butcher’s oooh-ooohs at their most audible and among their most emotive. It’s one of the easiest MBV songs to actually understand, and though its inarguably light on the heaviness, it’s still colourful and full of wondrous invitation.
When My Bloody Valentine were nothing but a name to me – and this wasn’t too long ago, I’ll admit – the first song of theirs I heard, discovered on an old mix-video my Dad made years ago, was Slow, a gritty, heavy, Shields-driven B-side about blowjobs that has no right to be one of their absolute best tracks. But it is, as infectious as it is inviting; and it makes me smile, smile, smile, smile.
2 To Here Knows When
The version I’ve included above this sentence is the only live video I’ve posted here; the rest are all the official studio versions. I’ve chosen the live-version of this Bilinda Butcher masterpiece over the more taut, constricted but equally masterful studio one, because to see it performed is to feel the emotion on a whole new level, expressed poignantly by Butcher through a series of ooohs and aaahs, some of the most powerful gibberish you’ll hear in any song, and one of the biggest highlights of an insanely great record.
I find it difficult to understand how calling out a number one selection on a list for being ‘the easy choice’ has any merit as a complaint. Sometimes is the easiest choice for the best MBV track because it, crucially, is the best MBV track by miles. Driven by a stunning distorted acoustic and Kevin Shields’ immensely powerful vocals, the music traverses its own realm of enlightening beauty to arrive on the other side shaken, bitter and worse for wear, a dying acoustic shrilly reprising once, then twice for a matter of seconds before disappearing completely. Sometimes is at the heart of Loveless, and remains the finest achievement of one of the most influential groups in modern music.