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Sunday, January 13, 2019

My Bloody Valentine: Ecstasy And Wine


1) Strawberry Wine; 2) Never Say Goodbye; 3) Can I Touch You; 4) She Loves You No Less; 5) The Things I Miss; 6) I Donʼt Need You; 7) (Youʼre) Safe In Your Sleep; 8) Clair; 9) You Got Nothing; 10) (Please) Lose Yourself In Me.

General verdict: A pretty brand of psycho-folk, but still with only indirect signs of the greatness to come.

This sounds much more like it. With Conway out of the band, replaced by amateur vocalist Bilinda Butcher (who was also made to play second guitar, despite having almost no prior experience with the instrument), the classic lineup of My Bloody Valentine is now in place; and by early 1987, Shields, who had emerged as the bandʼs primary songwriter and artistic leader, decided that, instead of bashing their luck against the dark rocks of «goth» and «post-punk», the band should focus on its natural strengths and go in a more psychedelic pop direction. The shift of direction was so abrupt and thorough that they even contemplated changing the bandʼs name (seing as how there was hardly anything «bloody» about this new music), but ultimately stayed true to the old moniker because (a) they were unable to come up with anything better and (b) they probably secretly enjoyed the dissonance between the terrifying self-appellation and the soothing musical content behind it.

The album under review was actually issued a couple of years after the release of the original material: it puts together their early three-song single ʽStrawberry Wineʼ, where the new sound fully coalesced for the first time, and the following seven-song mini-album Ecstasy, both of them released on the Lazy Records label. Together, this makes for about half an hour of continuous play — and, although the sound is consistently pleasant, thirty minutes is actually still much too long for this kind of stuff.

Much of what would later make Loveless so great is already here — the lulling dream-pop guitar rhythms, the vocal harmonization between Kevin and Bilinda where the latter plays a romantic dream echo for the former, and, most importantly, the ghostly production where the guitars and vocals seem to diffuse into each other, creating a dirty-ish, lo-fi-ish psychedelic effect that can be visualised as «making your way through the deadwood of a magic forest late at night». What is still missing, however, is the ability to create strong instrumental hooks and monumental walls of acoustic and electric sound to go along with them. (Interestingly, the majority of the songs depend on acoustic jangle rather than electric distortion — at this point, the band has rejected heaviness so completely that they would have to catch up on it later on).

If you have heard ʽStrawberry Wineʼ, you probably already have a very good idea of how the rest of the record is going to sound: fast, energetic, lo-fi, and — if you can make out any of the lyrics, which you are not really expected to — surprisingly influenced by the old folk scene when it comes to verbalizing some of the emotions, though, truth be told, the text of ʽStrawberry Wineʼ is largely just a collection of old-timey lyrical clichés that could quite easily be produced by one of those modern songwriting bots ("misty morning in the springtime... on the darkside let the light shine... these lips will find strawberry wine..." etc. etc.). Melody-wise, they are influenced by both Cocteau Twins and The Smiths, but ʽStrawberry Wineʼ and its ilk have the complexities and intricacies of neither — the band membersʼ instrumental skills are amateurish, and the voices of Kevin and Bilinda, though very pleasant and soothing, have no special coloring to them. On the other hand, these circumstances also make the material easily accessible: artsy and psychedelic, sure, but burdened with none of the weirdness that can put an inexperienced listener off Liz Fraser or Morrissey.

Some of the songs go even deeper in time in regard to their influences: slow ballads such as ʽCan I Touch Youʼ are really just your good old-fashioned Sonny & Cher-style folk-pop given a modern lo-fi sonic coating, while ʽClairʼ sounds like a long-lost Byrds outtake from circa the 5th Dimension period. And in those rare instances where they decide to throw in some electric distortion and fuzz, after all, the result is an equally old-school garage rock sound (sentimental on ʽThe Things I Missʼ, more hard-rocking on ʽLose Yourself In Meʼ). This is not particularly important for this early try at artistic relevance, but it does help to understand where My Bloody Valentine were really coming from and what actually made them so different from the majority of «shoegazers» — they really had a fairly conservative attitude when it came to songwriting, and it is mainly their manipulations with soundwaves that made all the difference.

In any case, unless you are a major fan of guitar jangle that can, for instance, differentiate between each and every album (or song!) released by The Bats, Ecstasy And Wine, like This Is My Bloody Valentine, will largely be interesting for historical reasons — though, unlike its predecessor, it can actually be enjoyed through and through without involuntary reactions of the «oh, what a pitiful attempt to sound like so-and-so» variety. Also, it is one of the best places to go if you want to hear what Kevinʼs and Bilindaʼs voices really sound like, or even to discern some of the English syllables that they are enunciating — not that the latter matters much, since the lyrics arenʼt anything to write home about, either. 

1 comment:

  1. >«making your way through the deadwood of a magic forest late at night»

    Both pretty and precise :) Quite an achievement.