My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything / You Made Me Realise EP – Round 9: Tom’s Selection

My Bloody Valentine. Well, it had to happen sooner or later! Seeing as I haven’t acquired an EP for a considerable time, Nick’s request for our 9th meeting seemed like an ideal opportunity to go back to one of my late 80s obsessions – MBV – and a time when I would readily snaffle up anything that the Melody Maker suggested was great, irrespective of format. As a result, my My Bloody Valentine collection currently has EPs outnumbering LPs and, I would guess, this situation is likely to remain as it is for a fair while yet!

Of the the three MBV EPs I own (You Made Me Realise, Glider and Tremelo)  the former is by far my favourite but then, let’s face it, it was made by a band at its peak. A controversial statement perhaps, but listen to the records!

Having played You Made Me Realise followed immediately by Isn’t Anything at DRC, I was surprised at how different they sound to each other. I bought the two records at the same time (in early 1990!) and always lumped them together as two sides of the same coin, perhaps viewing the You Made Me Realise EP as the leftovers of the Isn’t Anything sessions. Listening to the two records the other night however (for the first time together for well over a decade), it sounded obvious that the EP was MBV flexing their new found muscle, bending sound and experimenting with distortion over what are (with the exception of the still flabbergasting title track) essentially C86 jangle pop tunes of the type typical of their early EPs and the Ecstasy and Wine LP.

Isn’t Anything isn’t anything like anything else. The echoes of MBV’s past are much more distant and the band are fearless and excited, perhaps knowing that what they were producing was unique and essential. It all sounds totally instinctive and jaw-droppingly good and, whilst I can accept the argument that MBV would go on to make music just as beautiful in the future, they would never again sound so confident and natural.

It’s almost impossible these days to not make comparisons between Loveless and Isn’t Anything and maybe it was easier to appreciate Isn’t Anything for what it is at the time of its release, uncluttered by the substantial reputation of its successor. I remember being dumbfounded on first hearing Isn’t Anything. I remember being slightly bored on first hearing Loveless. I can appreciate that Loveless was a remarkable achievement, a coherent aesthetic statement that opened up new avenues of exploration for popular music but, to me, it sounded so considered, so polished. I missed Isn’t Anything’s visceral quality and its sense of ‘let’s get this moment nailed down before it’s lost forever’. My theory is that Kevin Shields was terrified of having to outdo Isn’t Anything and the direction he eventually went in with Loveless was of the head – Isn’t Anything sounds to me like a record that came from the heart.  And played loud with your undivided attention it still sounds incredible.

Rob asked who we thought their influences were at the time Isn’t Anything was recorded. We struggled to come up with anything at all. Isn’t Anything really does sound like a record that came out of nowhere, had its moment in the sun, and then skulked off to the shadow cast by its attention seeking younger sibling. One senses that this generally under-appreciated slab of avant-rock (?) will go on to have the last laugh yet!

Nick listened: Unsurprisingly I know both Isn’t Anything and (the title track of) You Made Me Realise very well indeed; having never found the EP on a reasonably-priced physical copy, though, I’ve only ever heard a couple of the other tracks, which were all I could find on P2P networks at decent bitrates, way back when I used to still use P2P networks (I stopped in 2005). You Made Me Realise still feels epochal, and hearing it via vinyl and big speakers for the first time was awesome; it’s always struck me as a shame, though, that the “holocaust” section isn’t strung-out longer on record like it reputedly is live (I’ve never seen MBV). The rest of the tracks, especially Slow, which I already knew, didn’t disappoint, but they did strike me as feeling slightly immature and unformed, like MBV were taking steps towards an aesthetic they had yet to fully master. This has struck me about some of the other EP tracks I’ve heard from this era, too; many of them don’t seem as finished as the tracks that ended up the two legendary LPs.

It was the first time I’d heard Isn’t Anything in full for probably several years, and it’s still an awesome, bizarre record; it feels like it’s built out of Lego, constituent parts stuck together; like the bass runs and feedback squalls of Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside), which feel disjointed, like different parts of different songs, but which somehow work together. There’s a physicality, a bass, a drive, to Isn’t Anything which I think, on some days, makes me feel it’s a better record than Loveless, which can feel one dimensional and rhythmically staid at times. Isn’t Anything is no less rhythmically staid, but that physical dimension adds an enticing brutality.

Rob listened: My Bloody Valentine are one of those bands I like/admire/listen to without ever having obsessed over. ‘You Made Me Realise’ was a highlight of Students’ Union indie nights when I was at my shambling dancefloor peak and I bought ‘Isn’t Anything’ on the strength of that one still staggering song. It’s hard to think of any other track which smashes together the propulsive drive of rock music with the bliss and freedom of sheer noise, harnessing the best of both breeds and producing something completely new. Still amazing.

The album I never really immersed myself in. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that I remembered the details of most of the tracks, even if I would have struggled to name them if pressed. Like Nick, I think this is the first time i’ve listened to the record on a proper set-up. When I bought it I had a turntable with built in speaker which, one assumes, is not what Kevin Shields had in mind for the first of his two master statements. It sounded terrific. Like the others, i’ve never really connected with ‘Loveless’. Too hard to lurch about flopping your fringe to, and that’s where MBV and I really hit it off.

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