Home Genres Rock A song-by-song history of My Bloody Valentine

A song-by-song history of My Bloody Valentine

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A song-by-song history of My Bloody Valentine
Kevin Shields at a 2009 show in Sweden. Image: Carl Bjorklund / Shutterstock.com

Catching a My Bloody Valentine concert may as well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The reclusive band hardly hit the road, but they’ve got nine shows planned across the country this month—it’s their first US tour in half a decade—so here’s your chance. And to mark the rare occasion, we’ve compiled a list of ten essential MBV tracks you need to hear.

“Only Shallow” (1991)

It’s the track that introduced countless heavy-lidded alt-rock fans to My Bloody Valentine. Four sharp snare hits are all it takes for the Loveless opener to launch into full throttle, blasting out wailing feedback and fuzzed-up guitars that threaten to blow your speakers. “Only Shallow” isn’t the band’s best track by a mile, yet it offers a neat primer to the MBV sound we know and love.

That cascade of chords that runs throughout the track would come to define Kevin Shields as a guitarist. Dubbed “glide guitar,” he simultaneously strums and (ab)uses the tremolo bar—with oodles of distortion and a sprinkling of production magic layered on.

“When You Sleep” (1991)

Take a hummable riff, season with an upbeat tempo and garnish with urgent, life-affirming vocals—it’s the recipe for the closest thing MBV has to a ‘party song.’ So, unsurprisingly, this Loveless track is also the most covered MBV tune, proving that the band’s influence lives on well beyond the track’s release.

For a completely fresh take, check out Japanese band Shonen Knife’s version. It appears on the tribute compilation Yellow Loveless. The cover is a specter of Phil Spector, a twee pop rework complete with girl group “oohs” and “aahs”:

“Forever and Again” (1985)

But before MBV established its shoegaze sound, the band were a post-punk and goth rock act in the vein of Bauhaus. Just like this track, taken off their debut record This is Your Bloody Valentine. And those creepy, Nick Cave-harking vocals on it? That’s David Conway, the original vocalist.

“By the Danger in Your Eyes” (1986)

One of Conway’s last recordings with the group, this single off The New Record by My Bloody Valentine marks the first seismic shift in the MBV sound. Borrowing from C86 jangle pop and the feedback-driven assault of The Jesus & Mary Chain, “By the Danger in Your Eyes” laid the groundwork for the shoegaze that would eventually follow.

“Strawberry Wine” (1987)

A year later, Conway would depart the group, in his place the inimitable Bilinda Butcher. And it took only her first single, “Strawberry Wine,” to exhibit her worth. Jangly guitars this side of The Byrds, vocal harmonies not far off from those of The Mamas & the Papas, and a more balletic mood suddenly came over the group.

“Drive It All Over Me” (1988)

If The 13th Floor Elevators, Nico and Echo & the Bunnymen were to jam in Dave Davies’ basement, they might stumble upon something like this. “Drive It All Over Me” is off their You Made Me Realise EP, and forms a bridge between MBV’s earlier C86-inspired days and their later ones.

“Feed Me with Your Kiss” (1988)

Now we’re talking. The lead track of what is commonly accepted as MBV’s debut studio album, Isn’t Anything, is sheer, unadulterated shoegaze with a dash of garage rock that’ll pummel your ears into submission.

“Sometimes” (1991)

Most of us will remember this from a scene in Lost in Translation. And what a fitting scene it is: Bill Murray’s character gazing longingly through the window of a taxi as it cruises down the neon-drenched streets of Tokyo. Even today, not many movies, can match the perfect pairing of that cinematic moment and the haunting, yearning tune.

But listen closer to “Sometimes,” and it’s clear why Shields is regarded as an incomparable songwriter and producer. Throughout the song, you’ll hear two dominant overdubbed guitar tracks melding together. One’s an amorphous cloud of fuzz that creates atmosphere and the other, curiously, is an acoustic guitar that holds together its 4/4 structure.

“Don’t Ask Why” (1990)

Just before Loveless dropped, there were the Glider and Tremolo EPs. And from the former comes this ballad (well, by MBV standards at least) that would spawn all your Pitchfork-endorsed indie pop of the noughties. From Deerhunter to Tame Impala to later M83—whether they know it or not, they’re indebted to this MBV phase.

“In Another Way” (2013)

When MBV released m b v more than two decades after Loveless, many fingers were crossed that it wouldn’t suck. But goddamn. The band killed it on the record, from the fan-pleasing “She Found Now” to the ethereal “If I am” to this. “In Another Way” demonstrates Shields’ love of drum ’n’ bass and jungle music—just listen to those beats. And you thought indie rock mixed with EDM is tacky.

Bonus: “Kevin Shields No 2” (1999)

Okay, so this is solo Shields—but what a song it is. Taken from the soundtrack of a live production by dance troupe LaLaLa Human Steps, “2” is a guitar masterpiece that radiates pure energy. This is the reason why the man is regarded not only as a modern-day guitar hero but a musician who peers into the future.