There are plenty of ways to build tension in music. Dissonance, unresolved harmonies, repetition, and crescendo have been skillfully deployed over the many years that music has been written. The response to the build up is more challenging. Many fall into the same harmonic traps, and many more fail to place anything worth remembering in the following segment of music. The resolution of tension is one of the simplest forms of communication that music can offer, so although having a competent resolution is easy, it takes tremendous originality to surpass this expected outcome. Though rare, when achieved, the beauty of revitalizing such an essential feeling is staggering.
My Bloody Valentine’s (more specifically Kevin Shields’) “floating tremolo” is the ultimate tension release, a gigantic yet intimate sound that inspired an entire subgenre. That My Bloody Valentine went on a 20+ year hiatus after releasing their shoegaze masterpiece meant nothing – the entire world of noise pop still turns to the band as the supreme influence. The sound is reproducible live, not a studio trick, as many of their mimickers would go on to engage in. The track that introduced the sound – You Made Me Realise – is famous for its live performances in which the band extends the “bridge” of noise upwards of 15 minutes. They play it until audience members either enter a blissful, music-induced, standing coma or begin to throw up the finger and push their way out of the building, foraging through their pockets for earplugs. The song has a powerful, syncopated, and rough noise part (different from the bridge) which the sung choruses lead into. Those choruses cut everything but dual, static colored vocals sighing the song’s title, formally declaring the noise as the point, as what is being built to. Breathy vocals sometimes offer a fighting contrast to the wall of sound, and sometimes they’re just another texture. Incomprehensible lyrics are a staple.
The final track on their magnum opus and final album before hiatus, Loveless, “Soon” is a fulfillment of this sound’s potential. (Its release on the Glider EP a year earlier negates any dramatic sentiment this might have had, however.) The two most popular songs on the album – the opener “Only Shallow” and the gorgeous serenade “When You Sleep” (the ability to express overwhelming love without more than five understandable words is just another achievement of this band) – utilize a loose formula of a noisy, instrumental hook leading into a (by comparison) calmer sung section. “Soon” reverses this trend, and throws in a dance beat to boot. The looping instrumental section that begins the song features a playful keyboard melody and eventually a sweet chorus of breaths, but its repetition is in truth a suspension of tension. Not only are they able to induce an indefinite, airy trance with this part, they are able to pop the bubble they build with the perfect needle. The guitar strum that announces the new, sung section can only be described as massive. They allow your mind to wander out in all different directions for the duration of the loop, before yanking every distant thread back to the center in an instant. It is focusing and inescapable noise. A typical My Bloody Valentine melody prolongs the musical exhale, and before long an oscillating pattern from trance to release is consuming the listener’s entire attention. They choose to end it on the dance loop rather than the sound wall, keeping the listener itching for more even after its seven minute runtime. When placed at the end of the album, a satisfaction with the repetition arises, giving the album a fittingly counterintuitive conclusion.