On no other record before it’s time does anything sound so out of this world, odd and disorienting than My Bloody Valentine’s 1988 landmark album Isn’t Anything. It’s a raw, visceral, and surreal experience rooted in punk and layered with texture and distortion. Most importantly, it features Kevin Shields’ signature tremolo-bended guitar and expansive use of reverb effects (first explored on the quartet’s You Made Me Realise EP), which are the sounds that launched and influenced an entire genre of music. Isn’t Anything is the blueprint to just about every shoegaze album you will ever hear. And, to this day, you won’t find a sound that is so emulated, so xeroxed, and so obvious as to who birthed its brilliance.
During a 2008 interview with Totally Dublin’s Ika Johannesson My Bloody Valentine’s Bilinda Butcher described her vocalist audition as such: “In the end, it was between me and this girl, Julie, who was going out with Douglas Hart from The Jesus and Mary Chain.” This is perfect, right? Butcher goes on to join a band that is heavily influenced by JAMC and yet that group’s founding member and bassist is dating the girl who comes in second place. My Bloody Valentine would go on to record some of the most amazing music the world has ever known with Butcher — two of the best albums in existence — while the Jesus and Mary Chain would go on to being MBV’s runner-up in terms of overall influence, legacy and experimental rock creativity. Simply put: JAMC introduced guitar feedback and noise into the pop spectrum, My Bloody Valentine completely rearranged it.
Along with the amount of noise and aggressive guitar attack this album provides, MBV’s new vocalist brings a sensual innocence to the male-female vocal harmony while adding a heightened awareness to the already sex-themed lyrics and song titles. “Soft as Snow, but Warm Inside” isn’t exactly a tune about the Winter Olympics. Butcher sings almost identical to Shields yet in some ways it’s as if she sounds like his long lost sibling. Her voice instills this calming yet seductive tone that balances Shields’ chaotic wall of sound with soft, angelic melodies. “Lose My Breath” is the perfect example of this — dark guitar chords strummed with a deadpan vocal delivery that gives way to a dreamlike chorus featuring Butcher’s trademark “oohs”. It’s almost imaginary or something right out of a fantasy novel where a beautiful siren appears out of nowhere and lulls you into a trance. There’s so much beauty and personality revealed in this track, and it becomes a huge part of the band’s sonic trademark.
Of course, why would we be discussing this fantastic record without mentioning its muscular framework? “(When You Wake) You’re Still in a Dream,” “All I Need” and the masterful punk barrage of guitars on “Feed Me With Your Kiss” rattle eardrums and will continue to blow minds for generations. Never has rock music sounded so equally punishing and experimental. “Sueisfine” and “You Never Should” provide more examples of the group’s magnificent noise-pop assault plus a nod to both Dinosaur Jr. and Hüsker Dü. “Several Girls Galore” is MBV at its most warped moment. It’s as if Shields left his guitars and effects outside so they could intentionally be exposed to intense levels of heat.
I could go on for pages about the band’s follow-up album Loveless, but Isn’t Anything is where the band’s innovations, moods and sounds blur into one. It’s a desert island album that should be discussed in every country, in every language. It belongs in the same company as The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, and Brian Eno, defies categories, and demonstrates how arresting and magnetic music can be on the senses. There are few albums in this world that sound so fragile yet so uncompromising and explosive. Isn’t Anything changed people’s lives, and that’s why we’ll continue to talk about it. words/ s mcdonald