Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Japancakes Covers My Bloody Valentine's Classic, Loveless

It took two years and 19 studios to record - and it nearly bankrupted their record label, but the result was arguably the most influential album of the 90s. In 1991, My Bloody Valentine released Loveless, a wall of distorted, warped guitars with a great depth of undertones and textures burying breathless vocals, bass and drums. The resulting sound is simultaneously loud and delicate, enormous and intimate. While the album wasn't as commercially successful as hoped for, it won the highest levels of praise from critics and musicians alike. Unfortunately, Loveless was the band's second and last full album.

My Bloody Valentine's gutsy approach to recording extended to their shows. I saw them play at the CMJ festival in New York; in the middle of one song they struck a note and stayed there, playing it over and over for 23 minutes. (Literally 23 minutes. My friend timed it.) It was a strange experience; I went through a range of reactions: impressed, annoyed, amused, angered, disbelief, tripped-out, thoughts of leaving (and a number of people did leave!). Finally, I was amazed when we were released from this strange frozen moment as MBV seamlessly continued from where they had left off.

I would have thought it foolhardy to cover a song off Loveless, much less the entire album. It's near perfect from beginning to end. Yet Japancakes (pictured above), an experimental group from Athens, GA, did just that, giving this shoegazer masterpiece new life in their 2007 instrumental remake. Steel pedal guitar and violin replace the vocals, showcasing MBV's songwriting, which has sometimes been eclipsed by their ingenious production.

One might be tempted to dismiss the remake as a muzak version of a classic, but Japancakes has done a masterful job of replacing the textured layers of distorted guitars with piano, flute, cello and organ sounds. The songs are given space to breathe, evoking vast spaces with their sparse instrumentation and faint Western twang. The remake doesn't rival the original, which changed the course of music in the early 90s. But, then, Japancakes doesn't try to compete with it. The album is a refreshing interpretation of a classic.

Below are the original version of "Soon," the last track on Loveless, and Japancakes cover (static video). Note: For some reason there is a lot of dead time at the end of the Japancakes video.

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