A lot of the music that I listen to would not make it into even the loosest definition of Americana and as the purists would have it, I have already spent an awfully long time eulogising about music that is not best suited to our Americana ethos. This is not the reason for this week’s topic, rather a happy accident that I can cover off my love of My Bloody Valentine and talk about Bluegrass at the same time. How is this crossover is possible you might think, how big is the shoehorn he has brought along this time? Well, it turns out that no shoehorn is required, the motivation is the rather magnificent attempt by Kenny Feinstein to cover MBV’s masterpiece, ‘Loveless’ using only acoustic instrumentation.
Now you might think that the whole enterprise is a magnificent folly, or maybe a novelty, a curio. You would be wrong – it is sheer genius and done with such attention to detail and such love that it stands a wonderful listen in its own right. ‘Loveless: Hurts to Love’ came out in 2013, I think I was alerted to it by an email from a PR company and most unlike me, I followed it up. Feinstein is the frontman for Water Tower, a roots-rock band. There was no recognition there, and I thought it is a great concept but it is going to be awful – I have never had much time for the whole Bluegrass circus.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. How could it be possible to represent the guitar sounds of Kevin Shields et al and all of the studio manipulation coherently with just the acoustic tools at hand? Certainly, with MBV cocooned in all that noise, is beauty, the guitars are spun like barbed wire made from candyfloss but at heart, there are melodies that are crystalline and beautiful. So maybe what would happen is that all of the ore would be stripped away and we would just have versions that just showed the gold. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
It is the complete sensual experience, the whirring disorientating fuzz as well as the nugget of melody. The fact that it is assembled from piano, acoustic guitar, mandolin, strings, ukulele and reverb is the amazing thing. Feinstein is helped out by producer Jeff Kazor, Bruce Kaplan (American Music Club) and Richard Buckner. So for you sceptics, there is some true Americana pedigree at work here.
And what work they do, how long must Feinstein have been scratching his head, how many attempts did it take to find the right sounds to replace the swirling dissonance of ‘Only Shallow’? I do not know and I am just grateful that he did; I do not want to unpick it, I just want to experience it. I do not want to suggest it is more authentically music or any of that sort of toss, it is what it is, a marvellous thing, like fashioning an iPhone out of wood and it works. When you think about the scale of achievement of both the original and this recreation, it is not as though Feinstein is scraping away the dirt and detritus that is obscuring what is in essence a pop song. Imagine how easy this would be for someone to take a sonic Karcher to the Jesus and Mary Chain – it would soon clear to reveal the lovely melody, anyone with a decent voice and an acoustic guitar could do this. However, with MBV the sounds and textures are so much more difficult to tease out, if that is what you want to do. Feinstein instead leaves them where they are and instead of removing the cloaking device, he carefully recreates it on his own terms.
I hope that you have clicked on some of the videos and are intrigued; you can buy it on Bandcamp here. Some of you might even be converted to MBV. The point here is that whatever music we cover on the site, we can always broaden our horizons; we should try to seek out the new (I do realise the irony of this some eight years after the record came out). There is solace knowing that out there in this community there are others who can reconcile noise and melody and are prepared to put in the hard yards to find bliss. MBV are a source of bliss because of the work that you need to do – that is the reward, going beyond simple gratification. We will all find that bliss in music and we will all find it in different places.
In addition to the whole of ‘Loveless‘ there is also a bonus in the shape of a version of ‘Shallow‘, originally a b-side (ask your parents) on the ‘Tememlo‘ EP. I find it hard to believe that it is 30 years since it was first released, so this is a good time to remind everyone. For a b-side, it is a staggeringly good song and in acoustic Americana form, it finds a new home. Thanks, Kenny for your painstaking work.