Is the Ó Cíosóig break the Amen break of Noise Pop?
As a lover of noise artists, it was difficult not to start my first post by mentioning My Bloody Valentine.
After revisiting their famous Loveless album not long ago, I was subsequently surprised to have the attention drawn away by drum breaks while listening to other Shoegaze/nugaze/noise pop artists.
It did not take long to made me realise (pun intended) that they were very alike the drum breaks in Loveless. From there, to ensure madness has not struck me, a bit of investigation was in order.
THE Ó CíOSÓIG BREAK PATTERN
The opening song of Loveless, the foundation laying album from My Bloody Valentine, is "Only shallow". Powerful, beautiful, it presents the wonderfully crafted sound that will make this album famous, and that generations of shoegazer aficionados will want to emulate.
“Only shallow” also begins with what we could be called call the “Ó Cíosóig break pattern”: a snare heavy, on the time snare roll on the last bar the 8/8 measure. This break is used throughout the song (i.e. 0:12s, 0:24s, …) to good effect. It signals the end of guitar loops and the break between verse and chorus. For those that need a quick reminder, “Only shallow” can be listened to here:
This break, as such, was not invented by MBV. Every drummer learns to do this very early. What characterises the way it is used on Loveless is that it is present in several songs, often repeated, it is mixed with a strong reverb, and brought up front, making it very audible.
According to several sources, Colm Ó Cíosóig, MBV's drummer, could unfortunately not do much drumming at the time of Loveless' recording for health reasons. His few recording sessions were sampled and then used through Loveless. This may have contributed to the consistency of the drum patterns across all the album's songs.
Present in "Only Shallow", this break pattern and sound is also present in the songs "When you sleep", "I only said", "Come in Alone", "Blow a wish" and "What you want".
What happened during Loveless' recording does not preclude the fact that, on previous recordings, Colm Ó Cíosóig had a very comparable drumming pattern, with similar breaks even if usually longer ones, more off-kilted and with slightly less linearity. His pattern can be recognized in previous recordings such as:
- Glider (EP): Off your face
- You made me realise: Thorn, Soft as snow, Cupid come, You're still in a dream, Feed me with your kiss, Sue is fine and You never should
- Ecstasy & wine: I do not need, She loves you no less and You've got nothing
Therefore, Loveless drums, even if not played by Colm Ó Cíosóig as well as he, and the band, may have liked it, is still very representative of his drumming style with MBV in the 80’s and 90’s. It somehow gave MBV' sound some stability in what was otherwise a journey into new sounds landscapes.
Prevalence, identifiable distinctive sound and inclusion in the Shoegazer’s genre foundation-laying album made this drum pattern more than a simple break: it made it a signature break pattern.
THE AMEN BREAK
According to our dear Wikipedia, the Amen break is a 6- to 7-second (4-bar) drum solo performed by Gregory Sylvester "G. C." Coleman in the song "Amen, Brother" performed by The Winstons in 1969.
It became famous from the 1980's onwards as it was often used as a sampled drum loops in breakbeat, hip hop and many styles of techno music. This is by far the most sampled track in the history of music, having been used over 2,200 times.
For those that want to know more about the Amen break, here is a very interesting video on the topic on YouTube that can be found at:
It’s unlikely you never heard it. This is a signature break, and as a result of its widespread use, recognizable by many people, both musician and fans.
THE Ó CíOSÓIG BREAK PATTERN: THE AMEN BREAK OF SHOEGAZING?
Like all foundation-laying albums, Loveless inspired musicians through the world. Consequently, it does not come as a surprise that this break pattern has been used in many noise pop songs since, through the world.
Here are some examples among many that are gathered after a going for less than 3 hours some shoegaze / nugaze music:
- Boo Radleys (UK): Kaleidoscope on Learning to walk
- Drop Nineteens (US): Plus fish dream on Delaware
- Cheatahs (UK): The swan on Extended play
- Tokyo Shoegazer (JP): Bright on Crystallyse
- Shojoskip (JP): Light and delight on Cosodorokitsune
- Baby Forumla (CH): Cat tenant on Baby formula
- Tatuki Seksu (JP): プリコグ (Shoegaze arrange) on Hanazawa
- Venera 4 (FR): Childish Scrawl on Eidôlon
- Asubi Seksu (US): Red sea, trance out, me & Mary, sighs on Citrus, Fluorescence
Where the Amen break has been widely sampled in electronic music, the Ó Cíosóig break pattern appears to have been used as an inspiration, and as such an homage by many noise artists to My Bloody Valentine and their drummer.
This analysis may be slightly unfair to these band’s drummers. After all it:
- can be the best drum pattern for a particular song
- is simple technically and sonically
- is easy to program digitally
Nevertheless, it is a pattern often found in shoegazing and noise pop, and, as such, can be connected to the genre’s seed album, Loveless.
DOES IT MAKE COLM Ó CíOSÓIG, ONE OF THE BEST DRUMMERS IN THE WORLD?
Many lists of the best 100 drummers of all time have been done. They include great artists masters of their arts, great technicians or both.
As a non-drummer layman, I am ashamed to say that there is only one of them who I can recognise: Maureen Tucker from “The Velvet Underground”.
She is included in Rolling Stones magazine 100 greatest drummers of all time. This was not due to the fact she had a fantastic technique. She developed a very personal style, using mallets, playing standing with a recognisable off-kilter style, and is one of the only drummer that non-drummers can recognise. Similar things are being said as well on Ringo Star, the “Beatles” drummer.
This is not a small feat. It is hugely difficult for a musician to be recognised by the public for his play. Artists like Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Miles Davis, to mention a few, could. They are rare and, more often than not, usually guitar players.
Well, it happens that I can recognise Colm Ó Cíosóig, and the drum pattern he put his stamp on. That, and the fact that, as a member of My Bloody Valentine, he has been part of the pivotal Loveless, and that his style can be recognised, does that not make him one of the best drummer in the world? Or maybe just the best shoegaze/noise pop drummer in the world?
I am biased, it is undeniable. Nevertheless, the above make a decent case for it. Also do not forget that his style and repertoire are a lot broader, as can be heard on MBV's latest album or in Hope Sandoval and the warm inventions.
Next time you listen to a song by one of your favourite noise artists, pay attention to the drums and remember Loveless. You may soon spot the Ó Cíosóig drum pattern in more songs than you think.