My Bloody Valentine – m b v

mbv

My Bloody Valentine – m b v

4/5

2013

21 years, 2 months and 30 days. That’s how long My Bloody Valentine fans waited for the follow-up to the Dublin group’s legendary 1991 sophomore album, Loveless. And unlike other cult bands in the “gone too soon” file, like, say, the Smiths, the members of My Bloody Valentine stayed largely out of sight during this time—no real solo and side projects, no scandals, no headlines driven by ego or personality. Like Portishead, My Bloody Valentine retained an air of mystery about them while on hiatus, Kevin Shields only popping up from time to time to tease fans with news of their elusive follow-up. Over the course of these two decades, we heard of painstaking sessions dropped and botched, albums worth of material recorded and dropped, Shields’ perfectionism ensuring that every time he thought his music was ready for the public, he would only throw it away and start at square one the following week.  But in the nearly 8000 days since Loveless, one thing has remained a constant: the fans’ breathless anticipation. If the band’s third album ever came out, would it be nearly as good as their first two records? Could anything be as good as Loveless? Had Shields spent so much time slaving over details that he wouldn’t be able to see the forest for the trees? Would the album end up a sprawling mess? Well, after hinting at its completion, on that 21st year, 2nd month and 30th day, My Bloody Valentine finally released the new record, anti-climatically titled m b v, through their website. And while it doesn’t bring peace to the Middle East, make Diet Coke taste like Classic Coke or anything else that fevered fans might imagine it would do, m b v is still a pretty damn good album.

But first off, what does it sound like? Shields and Bilinda Butcher had mentioned over the years that some tracks they’d worked on had been written in the early ’90s and influenced by the then-burgeoning dance and electronic scenes. Those signs implied that Shields was pushing My Bloody Valentine toward heavy rhythms and something altogether more digital. Instead, while there are elements of dance music, the album is far more restless than that, its diversity more in the spirit of Isn’t Anything without quite sounding like anything they’ve done before. The first three tracks favor the druggy shoegaze of Loveless, almost as a welcome back to longtime fans, but even here, the guitars tend to drive and grind rather than float and quiver. But while “She Found Now,” “Only Tomorrow” and the roaring “Who Sees You” would have all fit relatively comfortably on their past records, m b v doesn’t truly take off till track four. The transportive, glacial beauty of “Is This And Yes” signals Shields isn’t merely interested in digging up the past, suspending Butcher five minutes in chilly synths, before the song dissipates into the hushed “If I Am,” a pleasant, if ineffectual, track that doesn’t have much pushing it anywhere. The superb “New You” and the delirious “In Another Way,” however, up the energy and follow up on the psych-dance that Loveless‘ “Soon” suggested, pointing toward potential single material and thrilling new directions for the band to take. But it’s the last two songs that show the lengths Shields was willing to go (and the risks he was willing to take) to challenge his audience and make something new. “Nothing Is” is a repetitious, headbanging jam that showcases the band at their heaviest, while the thunderous closer, “Wonder 2,” is something else entirely. Shields claimed one of the tracks here was inspired by drum’n’bass, and with Colm Ó Cíosóig’s jet-speed drumming, “Wonder 2,” is most likely the culprit. It ends up sounding more like drum’n’Armageddon, though: With a phaser effect on aircraft-in-a-wind-tunnel levels and booming drones of guitar creeping out of the murk, it’s the most chaotic and harrowing track MBV ever committed to tape. What’s funny is that, despite all the stylistic diversions and the two-decade gestation period, this album sounds like it could have been released in 1993, yet it’s fresher than most of the ’90s revivalist acts that ape the Valentines’ style, since there’s no simple nostalgia here; it’s all future. There’s not just surprise in that, but comfort as well: After decades of imitators, it’s nice to know that the students haven’t yet overcome the masters.

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Posted on February 3, 2013, in My Bloody Valentine and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Predictably the Internet has gone mad for the new MBV record. As a long time fan it pains me to write this review. I was massively excited about their new material – having listened to it 5 times here are my thoughts:

    First off the cover – it’s horrible. Rumour has it there were 800 submissions for cover art – if this is the best they could come up with I’d hate to have seen the other 799 designs. Such a shame when the covers of Loveless, Isn’t Anything and the EP’s are so great. It looks like a 10 year old did it on a computer.

    Anyway, on with the important bit – the music:

    1. One of the more successful songs on the album. It’s kind of sub Loveless but heavier. A promising start then. It has bendy guitars. It had hushed vocals. But it’s forgotten the tune.

    2. A pretty ponderous riff jugs along in the background with the now obligatory bendy effects. Where has the tune gone? At over 6 minutes there’s nothing to sustain this song – I can live with meandering if it has a purpose but this song is so… boring!

    3. More bendy guitars – the whole way through. But where has the tune gone? This is a recurring theme throughout this record. What made MBV great (like the Mary Chains Psychocandy) were the melodies. Loveless has them in bucketfuls beneath all the distortion. This new record is woefully lacking.

    4. More bendy guitars – and a meandering vocal. It’s out of focus stuff and not unpleasant. But not outstanding either. I like it though.

    5. The weakest song on the album – it’s horrible. A meandering keyboard/organ meanders while a cooing Bilinda vocal meanders. There are some drums somewhere in the mix which add nothing at all.

    6. I actually quite like this. They played it at the electric gig and thankfully they’ve toned down the keyboard part. It’s a nice melody if a little light musically for an MBV tune. It’s ‘nice’. My mum would like it too.

    7. This has bendy guitars and a cooing vocal from Bilinda. A least here there’s some semblance of a coherent vocal hook and melody. I like it.

    8. An instrumental – it has pounding (and great) drums – it has bendy guitars – it doesn’t have a vocal. It’s kind of pointless but in no way bad.

    9. Sounding like a train put through a flanger this piece is interesting musically. It has bendy guitars – it has out of focus vocals. It’s forgotten the tune. It reminds me of Swans latest offerings. Kind of intense but not very sexy. It leaves me totally cold.

    In summary MBV have forgotten the tunes. Take any song from Loveless out of context and play it on a piano or guitar and there are some lovely melodies in there. This record just doesn’t deliver. I’m all for avant garde if that’s what this record’s trying to be but it fails in that respect too. As for the bendy guitars and cooing vocals this record has them in spades – but is it pushing into new territory for MBV? No. Does it make up for that with some cracking hooks and melodies? No. Was it worth the wait? Not really

    For an MBV record – 3/10
    Compared with their contemporaries I’d give it a 7/10

  2. On first listen, I must admit I’m underwhelmed.

    • Once the fuss has died down and the sycophants (ie critics and geeky fans) have stopped lauding it over the band, time won’t be kind to this record. Which isn’t to say its rubbish as it clearly isn’t – it just isn’t anywhere close to the quality of their previous output.

      • It’s hard to say how time will see “m b v,” especially since we are right at the crest of the hype/backlash machine. But divorced from the expectations people thrust upon it, I found it to be a satisfying record. Yeah, no masterwork (though that’s one of the things time is good at sharing with us), and it wasn’t quite as surprising or as great a comeback as Portishead’s, but it worked well for me all the same.

  3. Interesting you mention Portishead’s comeback LP. I think that suffers from the same problems as mbv. When a band stops being creative (or in the case of MBV even being a band) they lose something. Both records sound cold and incoherent and deeply unsexy. Both records had massive gaps between them and their predecessors. Both bands made brilliant debut and second records within a relatively small space of time.

    • I think it’s that “unsexiness” that draws me to “m b v” and “Third” though, since it’s a clean break from the respective band’s past, though I don’t think either record is as cold or incoherent as you do.

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