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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Song of the Week: My Bloody Valentine - "Only Shallow"

Rating: 7.9/10

Shoegaze was the alternative rock movement of the '90's that remained underground while grunge and later post-grunge stole the spotlight. Kick-starting the decade with 1991's Loveless, My Bloody Valentine soon found themselves atop the shoegaze pyramid, a position they can they can still claim today over counterparts like Lush and Catherine Wheel. Though started in the middle-to-late 1980's, it wasn't until the nineties that the genre tapped it's full potential. Loveless remains the benchmark for today's shoegaze-tinged bands like Yuck, The Big Sleep, and Whirr to measure up against, and is a truly timeless record. For those who don't understand what shoegaze is, it's relatively simple. Shoegaze bands, as they were often dubbed, were characterized by "wall-of-sound" production styles with loud, distorted guitars and droning melodies. The vocals were often lowered in the mix so as not to overshadow the instrumentals, resulting in a bigger sound overall. Loveless is widely accepted as the pinnacle of the genre, and the album opener "Only Shallow" is perhaps the most famous track on it.

"Only Shallow" is a track that is simultaneously abrasive and spacey, letting your mind drift without interruption despite the high volume of the mix. The band's female vocalist, Bilinda Butcher, takes the mic on this one. However, like much of the genre's greatest songs, the focus is not on her vocals but the backing track. The erratic guitar-keyboard riff that pollutes the lyric-free chorus serves as the song's hook while Butcher lets the instruments do most of the work. The song pushes on and on without rest, repeating the verse-chorus format several times, before cutting out abruptly. A true classic, "Only Shallow" both gains and suffers from the genre under which it falls; yes, shoegaze's emphasis on trippy production and distorted guitars, but it also grants little leeway in terms of the song's structure and creativity. Still, this track is not one to be missed, as it helped popularize a genre that been growing underground for years and still holds up well to this day. Listen to it below.

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