When bands cover My Bloody Valentine, most take a lazy shot at “When You Sleep.” It’s a straightforward four-chord pop song, if naked. Covers of “Sometimes” are also common, if slightly more impressive. Anything else is rare.
Granted, almost all of MBV’s recordings after 1988 defy easy coverage. And yet, pre-’88, they dropped some simple, twee pop that hasn’t been covered by anyone that comes to my mind (or shows up in an extensive activation of my SEO powers). “Strawberry Wine,” anyone? No one.
Also, for such an iconic band, you’d think there’d simply be more covers. Maybe Kevin Shields’s unique guitar tones and tunings etc frighten people off, which is a shame. MBV buried some great songs inside all that noise (I saw them in London in 1992, and my ears only stopped ringing last week).
Those that tried, ranked:
13) Buffalo Tom -Cupid Come
Buffalo Tom really have no business covering any MBV song, even for a B side like this one. They get points for getting on the train, nonetheless, and picking a song nobody covers. And I say that with love for Buffalo Tom’s first three records (and after #3 I respectfully get off that train).
12) Mira – When You Sleep
Miami-based Mira took a nice angle at this song about 10, 15 years ago, slowing down and reducing the distortion to almost nothing, but it quickly runs out of gas. Not totally Mira’s fault. Shields didn’t write a bridge. But Mira could’ve added one.
11) Nadja – Only Shallow
Canadian ambient metal (etc) duo Nadja‘s cover of “Only Shallow” pulls off a nice-slowdown of the opening riff, but falls into the same trap as Mira, pulling a hammy after two minutes.
10) Loud Family -When You Sleep
Power pop would be the avenue for unlocking the tunes at MBV’s core. Loud Family/Game Theory know what they’re doing, and don’t embarrass themselves. On this, their drummer earns a free bag of chips after the show.
9) Shonen Knife -When You Sleep
Every band has an MBV song they love, but only Shonen Knife has an MBV song that loves them back when they give it the Motown/Phil Spector treatment. Their studio version appears on the otherwise un-recommended Yellow Loveless tribute, but their live version is better.
8) Jeff the Brotherhood – Come in Alone
At first listen I felt this sounded uninspired, but JTB’s head-nodding rhythm grew on me enough to get to 2:13, around when they throw in a crazy guitar figure on an e-bow or a sky saw or some such shit, and it hit me: this is for people who still get high. If I was high, I’d love this more. And that made me love it more, because: rock.
7) Antlers – When You Sleep
The hand claps and the drunken take on the riff simply kill. I should probably rank it higher, and if you’re one of the three people (me included) who reads this and is pissed that I didn’t rank it higher, take a number (2, or 3).
6) Rachel Zeffira – To Here Knows When
Who doesn’t love the occasional, left-field classical treatment? Among MBVs most gorgeous compositions – OK, the prettiest song MBV recorded — “To Here Knows When” benefits from Zeffira’s pitch-perfect vocal balanced against MBVs wavering, swirling melody. If you don’t believe Shields listens to Philip Glass, you’ll think otherwise after hearing this.
5) Dinosaur Jr – Thorn
When, like Dinosaur Jr., you championed MBV long before anyone else, and even opened for them long before anyone else (… when I saw them in London in 1992. Thanks for the tinnitus, guys) you just get the ‘effin Shields guy to cover it with you. Nice choice of a cover, as if DJ is saying they were listing before anyone else, since “Thorn” appears on the early 1988 “You Made Me Realize” EP, which is really the turning point for MBV, soundwise.
4) Boris With Merzbow – Sometimes
The Big Heaviness. In 2009, Japan’s neu-metal wizards Boris and noise mensch Merzbow crafted a collaborative bullseye of an LP for noise-drone fetishists. Boris’s Wata, smaller than some of the instrument she plays, is one of my favorite guitarists, and should be one of yours too. Following a squiggly burst of Merzbow, Boris slows this MBV song down to little more than barre chords riding distortion, or to the point of nearly losing the song altogethera at the slo-mo pace of their frequent collaborators Sunn O))).
3) Deerhoof – Lose My Breath
The level to which Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki nails Bilinda Butcher’s original vocal, which should be un-cover-able, elevates this version to the common stratospheric level of any covers by Deerhoof. As usual, the guitar playing takes a different way in. Maybe the best American band working today.
2) Japancakes – Loveless (album cover)
To undertake a full album cover of Loveless, employing cello, steel guitar, sleigh bells, and flute would strike anyone as mad. Not the exceedingly mutable Japancakes. To say they pull it all off is debatable, but two-thirds of their album-cover discovers the excellent heart of Shields’s songs by discarding guitar/vocals/drums/distortion entirely, the result almost rivaling the aural equivalent of looking into the sun for too long:
1) 8-bit version.
Remember that time you broke into your parents Valium stash and mistakenly slid your MBV cassette of Loveless into the Nintendo console? Result: the best MBV cover possible.