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Album Review

Putting a different spin on a classic album can be asking for trouble — or at least a lot of griping from purists — and that goes double when the album isn't just a classic, but redefined the way that many people think about and listen to music. Japancakes' song-for-song cover of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless is clearly meant to complement the classic rather than compete with it. The group doesn't try to re-create the album's dramatic dynamics; Japancakes' Loveless is all smooth contours where the original raged and floated. Arranged for piano, strings, steel guitar, flutey keyboards, and drums, these reinterpretations are lovely instead of mind-blowing, and all are done with an earnest affection for the source material. Actually, that earnestness leads to a few too-literal moments, as on "Blown a Wish," where the cooing strings become saccharine instead of blissful, and on "Loomer," which is both too on the nose and a little too close to "A String Quartet Tribute to My Bloody Valentine" for its own good. However, there are many more moments that are pleasant, and even inspired, in their own right. "When You Sleep" becomes a lunar lounge music lullaby; "Only Shallow"'s heavily reverbed pedal steel cleverly mirrors the original track's elegantly squealing guitars, and "Soon" is just as hypnotic at Japancakes' molasses pace. The band really puts its stamp on Loveless by emphasizing and caressing the album's gorgeous melodies, which are often underrated when people laud its remarkable guitar sounds and production. Japancakes does an especially fine job of this on "Sometimes," bringing the yearning, almost Celtic melody to the front to give the song a very different kind of beauty. Indeed, the slightly less-iconic songs like this and "What You Want," which features strings looping and reverberating into ethereal infinity, are some of the most inspired moments on the album, possibly because they offered Japancakes more artistic leeway. Oddly, the whole album is less impressive than the inspired cover of the Cocteau Twins' "Heaven or Las Vegas" that Japancakes did on their other 2007 album Giving Machines. Still, their Loveless isn't nearly as gimmicky as it could've been. At its best, it offers an appreciation of, and another way to appreciate, a landmark work.


Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Improvisational drone-pop orchestra Japancakes was the brainchild of Athens, GA-based musician Eric Berg, who in 1997 had the idea of organizing a group of ten musicians to take the stage without any previous rehearsals all for the sake of playing a single "D" chord for 45 minutes. Fascinated by the subtle changes and imperfections which textured the performance, Berg began mounting other experiments within a similar conceptual framework; although the onstage lineup often expanded to as many as a...
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