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Monday, February 4, 2019

My Bloody Valentine: EP's 1988-1991

MY BLOODY VALENTINE: EPʼs 1988-1991 (2012)

CD I: 1) You Made Me Realise; 2) Slow; 3) Thorn; 4) Cigarette In Your Bed; 5) Drive It All Over Me; 6) Feed Me With Your Kiss; 7) I Believe; 8) Emptiness Inside; 9) I Need No Trust; 10) Soon; 11) Glider; 12) Donʼt Ask Me Why; 13) Off Your Face.
CD II: 1) To Here Knows When; 2) Swallow; 3) Honey Power; 4) Moon Song; 5) Instrumental #2; 6) Instrumental #1; 7) Glider (full length); 8) Sugar; 9) Angel; 10) Good For You; 11) How Do You Do It.

General verdict: An essential collection for the bandʼs fans, an interesting educational piece for those casual admirers who wonder if there is any life beyond Loveless.

Since MBV only managed to put out two full length albums in their prime, it is reasonable to pay attention to their shorter products as well — in a way, one could argue that singles and EPs were a more natural, or, at least, a less painful, manner of expression for Kevin Shieldsʼ vision. Since allocating a single review to each EP would be a serious overkill (especially since the title songs off their EPs often made it onto LPs anyway), this particular compilation, released in 2012, comes very much in handy: it collects every EP that the band released from the year of Isnʼt Anything and right to the year of Loveless, plus a handful of rare and unreleased tracks to justify the presence of two CDs.

Other than one particular song (to which we will get a bit later), the discs offer little by way of revelation, but for those in sore need of an additional MBV fix this is all essential and auspicious listening. It could be said that the four EPs collected here represent two different and distinct epochs in the evolution of MBVʼs sound, with each pair further subdivided into two less different, but still subtly varying «sub-epochs»; and although I cannot call myself a true fan of the band in their pre-Loveless period, their gradual, natural, and inspiring evolution is fascinating to behold from its humble foundations right to the glorious peak.

On the first EP, You Made Me Realise, they are still very much a noise-rock indie band with lo-fi production values. The title track became famous in the underground world because of its «holocaust section» (the final distorted chord that would be put on forever loop and played as an incessant rumble for up to ten minutes), but the short studio version is just a fast-paced psycho-grunge rocker with psychedelic falsetto vocal harmonies — nothing particularly great, and nothing Sonic Youth could not have played in their sleep. The other four songs tend to be slower, with more pronounced acoustic guitar parts (ʽThornʼ) and soothing somno-folk female vocals (ʽCigarette In Your Bedʼ), but poor production values, unfortunately, bring down the melodic potential of even such prettily crafted tunes as ʽDrive It All Over Meʼ; at this point they are not yet anywhere near the level of Lovelessʼ sonic brilliancy, but neither are they capable of bringing out the full beauty of their guitars and vocals without the psychedelic effects.

Feed Me With Your Kiss, kicking off with the title track that would also make it onto Isnʼt Anything, is already a major improvement in terms of production, though not truly in terms of creativity. The brutal stabbing melody of ʽFeed Me With Your Kissʼ, come to think of it, is almost like a variation on ʽYou Made Me Realiseʼ (think an ʽAll Day And All Of The Nightʼ to a ʽYou Really Got Meʼ), but it sounds cleaner, with a much better drum sound, much thicker and weightier guitars, and a general impression that it might have been produced in a cavern rather than a toilet. That said, the other three songs are nothing to write home about: ʽI Need No Trustʼ, in particular, goes for a gently lulling effect with its blubberingly arpeggiated waltz tempo, but ends up sounding like something in between a completely stoned Syd Barrett and a completely spaced out Jeff Mangum, only messier and hissier than either of these gentlemen. I really do not think that My Bloody Valentine were cut out for this kind of «stoner folk».

Skip forward about a year and a half, though, and you get what is arguably the single most impor­tant moment in MBV history: the Soon EP, introducing the world to its first taste of the sound of Loveless. You already know everything there is to know about ʽSoonʼ, the song, but just as important and even more mind-blowing is ʽGliderʼ, a fully instrumental demonstration of Kevinʼs new guitar-playing technique — three minutes of what sounds like a herd of genetically modified elephants engaged in the wildest orgy on Earth. And if you think three minutes of this is way too much on the ears, how about ten minutes — on the full length version of the tune, appended as one of the bonus tracks on the second CD? In all honesty, I never listened to that one to the very end (fortunately, neither did any of the prisoners at Guantanamo, because CIA people can never really come up with anything more creative than good old black metal). But a couple minutes of that sound, perhaps the purest essence of the MBV sound ever distilled, is indispensable listening to anyone still not convinced that people in the Nineties could still make the kind of sonic innovations that could leave your jaw on the floor.

The best comes last: Tremolo, the last of the four EPʼs, was released with the band already in full Loveless mode. ʽTo Here Knows Whenʼ was the lead-in track, later to be included on Loveless itself; it is great, but almost just as great is ʽSwallowʼ, a «valentinization» of a sampled Turkish belly dancing track (Eastern psychedelia!). And ʽHoney Powerʼ and ʽMoon Songʼ are two other strong compositions of Loveless quality — the former now using that «elephant orgy» sound in support of a catchy and lovely vocal melody, and the latter returning us to the stoner-folk territory of ʽI Need No Trustʼ, but now with vastly improved production, as the steady, distorted waves of electric guitar conjure so much more majesty than three years before.

The bonus tracks are not ecstatic; but three previously unreleased songs are solid, if not particu­larly memorable, indie rock (I am not sure of the exact time of recording, but they clearly predate the Loveless era), and ʽInstrumental #2ʼ is a rare case of the band experimenting with minimalist drumʼnʼbass rhythms and echoey vocal overdubs, creating a bit of «ambient-dance» music; appa­rently, the trend did not catch on, but it is interesting to see them try out something that does not involve a shitload of acid guitar sound — just as it is, above and beyond everything else, interesting to witness the band evolve and reach their peak in slightly over an hourʼs time. All in all, the collection will hardly convert you if you are not already a fan, but if you are a fan, not owning it is like not owning the Beatlesʼ Past Masters.

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