My Bloody Valentine: The Sound Of The Future

Meet the British guitar warriors who are setting the new standard for pop music

my blood valentine 1991
Alastair Indge/Photoshot/Getty Images
My Bloody Valentine backstage during their Loveless Tour in Cambridge, England.
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Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 623 from February 6, 1992. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story . Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.

We'd like to come out from the shadow of the greatest things ever done," declares Kevin Shields, the soft-spoken, bookish-looking leader of My Bloody Valentine. "We'll never do anything better than the Beatles, but what we could achieve is, if you play our thing and then play theirs, ours is different — ours is now and theirs is then."

The band's new album, Loveless, is not just "now" — it's far ahead of its time. Subverting rock conventions from song structure to production techniques, it may well stand as one of the most influential albums of the Nineties. No less than Brian Eno recently told Rolling Stone that My Bloody Valentine was his favorite new band and that "Soon," the closing track of Loveless, "sets a new standard for pop."

The reverberations of the band's massively influential 1988 debut album, Isn't Anything, are still being felt in England, where the album's psychoactive textures inspired the recent spate of obsessive, psychedelic, guitar-driven groups such as Blur, Lush, Ride and Curve. My Bloody Valentine has become the flagship of those groups, dubbed shoe-gazer bands for their tendency to stare floorward during their performances.

My Bloody Valentine — a London-based quartet that includes Shields and Bilinda Butcher on guitars, Colm O'Ciosoig on drums and Deb Googe on bass — cements its wall of sound with looped samples of feedback, flutes, even the sound of piano strings stroked with a pencil eraser. Shields's radical whammy-bar technique provides the band's signature sound — a strange warping effect that makes the music wander in and out of focus. The collage of sounds suggests the blurry melodies of distorted orchestras or far-off bagpipes, while Shields's and Butcher's obscured vocals teeter on the verge of distinguishability, reveling in a constant, oceanic rumble of distortion.

For Loveless, producer Shields often recorded a song's main tracks in a matter of minutes, then spent months tweaking them in the studio. The effect is staggering, but Shields's aural sculpture doesn't come without a price — three years in the making, Loveless reportedly cost as much as $500,000 and nearly bankrupted the band's British label, Creation Records.

Loveless can be as ethereal as the Cocteau Twins and as grindingly discordant as Sonic Youth, yet it's a quantum leap past both bands. Excepting perhaps the Beatles' wildest sonic flights and the work of minimalist composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass, it simply doesn't sound like anything else. "I'm amazed when I hear stories of people in studios, going, 'Let's listen to a record and try and get the sound,' " says Shields. "That's like getting up and looking in a magazine to see how you should get dressed."

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From The Archives Issue 74: January 21, 1971