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Review: My Bloody Valentine – ‘mbv’

My Bloody Valentine return with a tremendous followup to Loveless, 21 years in the making.

 

My Blood Valentine’s seminal album Loveless was a high note to go out on, a nearly perfect record that combined lush guitar tones with sweeping vocals slightly buried beneath feedback and noise. Only two albums into their career and suddenly My Bloody Valentine were icons, a power battery for what would become the shoegaze movement. After the success of Loveless, band mastermind Kevin Shields found himself unable to realize another record. The long period of inactivity eventually broke My Blood Valentine apart.

A scant twenty-two years later, the band return with MBV, an album of music that Shields has been working off and on with since 1996. Following the in the footsteps of creative madness, like Brian Wilson or Syd Barrett, Shields worked on his next musical vision in chunks instead of linearly.  Once recorded, the band played it very coy with a release date before finally opening it up as a digital download (plus vinyl or CD) at 11:58pm GMT on February 2nd.  The site holding the download instantly crashed. Why? Well, a new My Bloody Valentine record is important to a lot of people, though for different reasons.

Older fans, like myself, who saw the band live and remember the hoopla over Loveless, have been waiting for this album since our twenties. On the flipside, you have twenty-something indie rock kids who only know My Bloody Valentine as the inspiration behind shoegaze. There are a lot of black-framed glasses, skinny jeans and PBR holding hipsters dying for this record. Was the wait worth it? Does absence make the heart grow fonder?

Yes, but that absence makes for a very different reunion. Those hoping to discover Loveless 2 will be disappointed. Shields’ and his band explore some new directions on MBV. The signature sound is still intact, but there’s more being drawn in from other inspirations. Whatever drives Kevin Shields to write also drives him to bend and reform his musical identity.

Unlike Loveless, which opened with the unforgettable guitar wail of “Only Shallow”, MBV starts with the gentle strum and subtle feedback of “She Found Now”. Shields’ strums with a lazy hand, letting the notes integrate with the feedback while singing at level so quiet he barely creeps in over the guitars. There’s the same lushness of sound and tone, but all played in a very down vibe way.

“Only Tomorrow” ramps up the loud, but still manages to side step any simple expectations. The lushness is gone here, replaced with jangly guitars being banged on with great determination. The crying out of these abused instruments results in a variety of guitar wails, screeches, pops and feedback. It’s as if Shields’ and company took the Nuggets sound and mixed it into their particularly potent noise and feedback gumbo. “Only Tomorrow” is a tougher, rawer song than you’d expect from these denizens of crisp production, putting you on alert that new ideas are unfolding.

Shadows of Loveless do pop up, especially in “Who Sees You”, which could be the sequel to “I Only Said”. It’s not as pretty, but the new jam creates that same swirling vortex of sound being tethered to a repetitive guitar riff. “Who Sees You” is surprisingly catchy, despite its dedication to raging oceans of feedback.

Shields moves into even newer arenas with “Is This And Yes”. Guitars drop out of this song completely, replaced with keyboards and a few effects. “If I Am” takes full advantage of Bilinda Butcher’s haunting vocals, displaying them over a shuffle beat and more swirling guitars. The sound comes together like a pop lullaby, something that rocks you to sleep not out of boredom, but complete peace.

“In Another Way” is an upbeat noise-punk jam underscored by samples and keyboards.  Bilinda brings her unique set of pipes to this song as well. For me, the song “Nothing Is” misses the mark simply because it’s three minutes of an intro to a song we never get to hear. My Bloody Valentine ends MBV with “Wonder 2”, which is also kind of a mess. It’s not a bad song, but the schizophrenic guitar ramblings compete with the feedback, which in turn competes with the vocals. The result is off putting and, honestly, a bit annoying. If sequenced in the middle or towards the end of the record, “Wonder 2” might have worked. As the final song of the album it just doesn’t work.

Now comes the waiting.

Sycophantic writers for hipster magazines will throw around terms like “genius” and “perfect”. Standard rock rags won’t get it, and underground 'zines will roll their collective eyes and regurgitate the mantra that nothing is as good as “their last album” or use the dreaded “their first album” claim. The reality of MBV lies in-between all the analyzing and music nerd debates. My Blood Valentine have released a tremendous record with MBV, one that is a natural progression from Loveless. Experimental but not to the point of fault, and without sacrificing their sound or the intangible quality that makes My Blood Valentine who they are.

Warts and all, MBV is an absolute triumph for the band.