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ISSUE 117 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 10/3/2003

A bloody October Valentine

By Jonathan Graef
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 3, 2003

In Sofia Coppola’s incredibly funny and sadly beautiful new film “Lost in Translation,” a once-famous actor, played by Bill Murray (in a profoundly deadpan performance), heads out for an evening of partying and karaoke in the city of Tokyo. A recently-wed young woman (Scarlett Johannson) is Murray’s companion for the evening; her photographer husband is busy with his work.

By mid-movie, the two characters have formed an unlikely friendship (no, they don’t become lovers; Coppola’s movie was much too thoughtful for that). After visiting the karaoke bar, the pair take a cab back to the hotel. Beautiful shots of Tokyo’s night skyline flash across the screen as the pair make their way home. The music in the background is incredibly appropriate; the melody sounds as though it was recorded at 3 a.m., as if the musicians who played the tune were neither awake nor asleep.

There are layers upon layers of guitars – so many that one could spend countless hours trying to absorb the sound. They are added to vocals that sound as though they’re meant to lull the listener into a psychedelic sleep.

The song perfectly complements the bleary-eyed confusion and wonder of a traveler, like Murray’s character, who is still trying to make sense of the foreign land he is visiting. I recognized the song, “Sometimes,” because it is off the incredible album “Loveless” by My Bloody Valentine.

After writing that sentence, I could have sworn that I heard the majority of St. Olaf utter a collective “Who?” Let me do some explaining. My Bloody Valentine is a group responsible for pioneering a sound called “Shoegazer,” which was popular amongst indie-rock folk in the early 90s. My Bloody Valentine is one of the few “Shoegazer” groups still being listened to, simply because their album “Loveless” is regarded as somewhat of a masterpiece within the genre.

What makes this album stand out from the pack, and the reason it is so beloved by those in the indie-rock community, is its innovative approach to the use of guitars as “texture.” By using samplers, which weren’t used much in rock when “Loveless” was released, My Bloody Valentine head songwriter Kevin Shields (who also produced “Loveless,” along with Flood and Alan Moulder) created the effect of an orchestra of guitars. There are moments on “Loveless” where this effect is overwhelming, such as in the track “To Here Knows When,” which isn’t a song as much as a mind-warping sound collage.

As a result, “Loveless” is most definitely an album that needs to be listened to with headphones on, from start-to-finish, and absolutely after the hour of midnight. Only then can one appreciate the overdubbing and layering applied in the album’s production. In fact, so much time and effort was spent producing the album that My Bloody Valentine bankrupted their label in creating “Loveless.”

Another unique element of “Loveless” is that parts of the album are heavy, but never overly aggressive. An example is the album’s opener “Only Shallow.” After four beats on the snare drum, a tidal wave of guitars arrives. When the first verse comes, a sensuous, just-above-a-whisper female voice coos the melody. The vocals provide for an intriguing contrast to the hard guitar accompaniment.

As Pitch Fork Media put it, when they listed “Loveless” as their top album of the 90s, “The brilliance of Loveless lies in paradox: how can something so incredibly noisy and layered sound so beautiful and delicate?” If one buys this album, they will be wondering how to answer this question. Oh, and go see “Lost in Translation.” Not only is it a terrific film, but Kevin Shields does the score.

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