Album Review – My Bloody Valentine’s “m b v” is a Worthy Follow-Up to “Loveless”
Right now, there’s a critical contingent that has built itself up inside of the film community and has an unhealthy obsession with “logic”. This craven circle of commentators sometimes see holes in the storytelling fabric of a movie that, upon further pontification, renders said film somehow instantly worthless. “How did Bruce Wayne get back to Gotham so quickly?” has tanked the enjoyment of The Dark Knight Rises for many movie-goers, never mind the simple response of “because the movie would be over four hours long stupid, it’s called editing”. They want answers dammit, and even if you can shoot holes in their plot-holes (opening a veritable wormhole through space and time), they’re not really going to give your retorts any real consideration. The movie is shit because they’re simply smarter than it (and you) are, and that’s the way it’s going to be.
Another good example of this unexplainable condescension is the group of film goers (who are usually very intelligent people, I might add) who think that, because the kids in The Perks of Being a Wallflower had never heard of David Bowie’s “Heroes”, the movie instantly turns to utter trash.
“Sam and Patrick are listening to Sonic Youth’s ‘Daydream Nation’ when they first drop Charlie off! Charlie’s listening to the goddamn Smiths in his bedroom! How the fuck don’t they know about David Bowie?”
These people are even more baffling to me, because it’s as if they’ve completely forgotten how they first came to certain artists. As someone who grew up in the same era as the protagonists of Stephen Chobsky’s memoir, I can attest to the fact that I knew who Nirvana and The Jesus Lizard were way before I recognized Bowie as anything beyond that “Let’s Dance” guy. Ziggy Stardust wasn’t as important as Nine Inch Nails or (gulp!) even the Stone Temple Pilots.
My Bloody Valentine wasn’t important then either.
To tell the truth, it wasn’t until I was in college that I even knew who the Dublin haze rockers were. I went to school in the south, which meant I was in a fraternity (sue me, I wanted to have some semblance of a social live) and was usually relegated to being known as one of “the weird ones”. So, while my “brothers” were off chasing whatever coked out sorority sisters they had a mixer with that night, I was usually off with the other “weird ones”, eating mushrooms and talking about how great artists like Jeff Mangum could make something like The Aeroplane Over the Sea and then be so intimidated by their own perceived artistic prowess that they could never follow it up (and usually, as a result, suffered from some form of a nervous breakdown). In this environment, it was nigh unavoidable that Kevin Shields and his infamous “glide guitar” and confounding pedal set-up would enter the conversation. And on one particularly hazy weekend, a “weird one” who will remain nameless (let’s give him the initials RJ) threw some random pink labeled record named Loveless on the turntable as we reclined couches at 2 AM, breath stinking of vodka and various other intoxicants.
After letting the gauzy guitar and distorted vocals wash over me in one forty-nine minute sonic wave, RJ regaled me with the story of how this one album bankrupted the group’s Creation Records in the UK, and that the process of following Loveless up at all sent Shields into self-isolation, much like Brian Wilson did in the wake of the cancellation of Smile. At that point in time, it had been sixteen years since My Bloody Valentine had released Loveless, and it would be another six until where we sit today, with the group releasing a damn near impromptu record on our heads late Saturday evening.
Between then and now, I became of slightly obsessed. I poured over both Loveless and Isn’t Everything, their 198 debut, attempting to figure out just what could possibly make a guitar sound like that. I wore out copy after copy of their CDs, both official and burned. I scoured the Web and my University library for any little bit of information I could find on them. As is my nature with something I genuinely adore, I wanted to know EVERYTHING.
As of this writing, there are those still struggling to get their orders properly processed, as the band’s website keeps crashing on account of massive Internet traffic. Twenty-one years builds up a ton of interest, see, and at this point m b v is being viewed almost as The Thin Red Line of music releases. The fact that it occurred on the same weekend Netflix dropped its format-changing $100 million drama, House of Cards, may feel oddly coincidental, though the pitfalls of a true “indie” remind us of just what we’re truly dealing with here in terms of a corporation vs. a group of slightly savvy artists. For me, it was a revolutionary reminder that those both young and old were adapting to the way we now consume media. While the last record may have been released via vinyl and casette, Kevin Shields and co. have still been paying close attention to the digital revolution.
Those hoping, once their download’s finally completed, to be greeted by the thunder of something like “Only Shallow” are going to be slightly disappointed. In terms of sequencing, Shields and company have opted for a hazy, wandering first half, followed by a significantly heavier and more rhythm directed back. Clocking in just two minutes shorter than Loveless, it’s a relatively melancholic and meandering affair until the fifth of nine tracks (and even that fifth strays from the path of conventional structure quite a bit). To put it succinctly, m b v is much more “dream pop” than it is tried and true “shoegaze”, complete with a five-minute near ambient bit of organs and singer Bilinda Butcher’s dreamy vocals bridging the two halves.
Make no mistake, only one band could’ve made this record. In many ways, m b v sounds as if it could’ve been released just as easily in 1994 as it has been in 2013 (and, if the rumors are true, some of this material may even date back that far). The sound that so many have fetishised over the years is still there from the opening lick of “she found now”, and it’s just as hard to decipher where one guitar ends and the next begins as the track floats on for five solid minutes. Despite not containing the overwhelming sonic pound that the group has come to be known for, it’s an arresting beginning nonetheless, and sets the stage for what’s to follow quite well.
If there’s a washout to be found on m b v, it’s certainly the second cut, as “only tomorrow”, while containing some interesting guitar theatrics half-way through, seems to be directionless and almost formless. When sandwiched between the overwhelming rain of noise of “she found now” and “who sees you”, it feels slightly out of place, and almost like it was wedged in at the last minute as an ill-advised tempo setter.
“if this and yes” is the aforementioned, drifting ambient bridge that is, on the whole, quite lovely, if just a touch too long. What follows it are probably the most exciting tracks on m b v. “if I am” opens with a glorious wah-wah pedal that guides Butcher through a valley of blissful fuzz, while “new you” is the most accessible of the album’s tracks. Propelled by an actual discernible bass line, it reveals the inner pop star that Shields works so hard to hide. Butcher’s vocals are strangely clear and defined, as well, reinforcing “new you” as being the closest to a self-contained, “radio ready” single that m b v has to offer.
But the simplicity of “new you” gives way to the record’s noisiest, and arguably best, offering. “in another way” ups the tempo considerably, as Shields’ guitar weaves in and out of the mix and moves into a soaring, nearly stadium rock central riff. It’s a serious Guitar Hero moment that is uncharacteristic from the normally underplayed, experimental outfit, and if My Bloody Valentine are to tour in the wake of this momentous album drop, “in another way” will be the song I will be anxiously awaiting during the entirety of their set.
If “in another way” is the best track on the record, then “nothing is” is the absolute strangest; a three and a half minute loop of guitar and drums that builds into a militaristic fervor before quickly tapering off into a haze of static. The song (if you can even really call it that) is more an exercise in tension than anything, with zero release coming at the end. I’m hesitant to call it filler, but I can’t see the track working as anything more than an extended jam session in a live setting.
“wonder 2” closes the album and, if the band wanted to go out on an absolute high, they certainly succeeded. Sounding as if she’s been caught inise the the firey engine of a Boeing 747, the vocals waver and hit each ear, ghost like in how they almost haunt the track instead of exist with it. The drums race and chug nervously, while the tempo never hits a defined pace. It’s a beautiful bit of racing shoegaze; the type of music this band didn’t just pioneer, but have now shown they can perfect better than any of those who took inspiration from their work. “wonder 2” is a lovely coda to a difficult, years in the making follow-up, and for that alone we should be thankful.
Beyond putting the album into context personally (which is how I foresee many other reviewers appropriately handling this monumental release), I think you also have to put the record into historical perspective as well. To compare m b v to Loveless isn’t just wrong, it’s futile. It would be like if David Cronenberg only made up to Videodrome in his filmography and then disappeared, spawning few imitators of the “body horror” sub-genre to compare to, and then re-emerged to drop Crash on us in 2004 (I’m playing with time-lines here, obviously, so be gentle). Sure, we’ve had Ride, Sigur Ros and almost the entirety of the Slumberland Records roster try and recreate that intangible “something” that Loveless possessed, but without that record, the entirety of “shoegaze” would arguably not exist. When you listen to Loveless in 2013, it still sounds cutting edge and from artists who were pushing themselves to create something “different”. m b v isn’t doing that, but is instead fitting in as a part of said classification’s canon; a newfangled extension, rather than an invention.
The best praise I can give m b v is that, upon first listen, it sounded to me like the logical next step for the group after Loveless. If RJ were to have thrown this on the turntable back in 2007, it would’ve felt natural and easy to link to My Bloody Valentine’s initial masterpiece. While I’m sure it will be interesting to listen to the stories that follow this album (as I too would like to know just how far back some of these songs date), for now I’m content to ignore the cacophony of voices that surround its release, bound to call the record “over-hyped” or “overrated”, or to even wonder just who My Bloody Valentine is in the first place. No, I’ll simply lay back on my couch and imagine that I’m in North Carolina again, drugs swimming in my brain as I explore this new work from a group I came to later in life, but found no less formative. To me, splicing the “logic” of the record together doesn’t seem important, as I’m simply glad that we finally have, for better or for worse, a new album that progresses that sound we found utterly captivating way back when.