Album Review: mbv

mbv albumWell, it’s been 22 years, but they’ve finally delivered. After all the the off-handed remarks, deftly placed hints, and empty promises of forthcoming material, My Bloody Valentine unleashed another batch of shoegazy goodness into the world.

It took a while to absorb the material. Not a good quality for a reviewer, per se, but in cases like these, a little extra time is often necessary. There are few artists who require such time to fully get acquainted with their releases, MBV probably being in the forefront of said group. The material is so engrossing, so mesmerizing, it’s hard to not just listen to the whole album in one go. Just a track or two at a time wouldn’t do it justice. Each song bleeds into the next, each cooing, haunting vocal, each pulsating bass line, each multi-layered guitar effect, combines to form not a song, but a state of being.     My+Bloody+Valentine

Pigeonholing My Bloody Valentine into a single category would be an exercise in futility. Their sound, though classified as “shoegaze” (a genre of which they’ve remained the dominant example), is so of a certain time and place, that it’s difficult to put them in a  specific niche in the lexicon of alt rock.

With mbv, the listener can easily see this 2013 release as being a continuation of (or possibly a B-side to) 1991’s seminal classic “Loveless”. The opening chords of “she found now”, the hazy, almost acoustic-in-nature guitar drone, Kevin Shield’s whispering vocals, barely audible above the constantly pulsating wall of sound, has all the hallmarks of a classic My Bloody Valentine recording.

Much to long-time fan’s surprise, this opening track signaled that, while the group had indeed come out with a new set of songs (it’s not a dream, I promise), it was still true to form. While in many cases, this would be a bad thing; the sound that Shields has cultivated these past decades has become so much of a brand, that oftentimes ‘more of the same’ can actually be a good thing. At first listen, my nerves wracked with anticipation, I feared the worst. But upon hearing the opening track, I was instantly comforted. MBV hasn’t strayed too far from their sound, but rather improved upon it with age.

my bloody valentine color            The album continues along this similar vein, a “Loveless 2.0” vibe permeating through the next couple of tracks: “only tomorrow” and “who sees you”. The one thing I instantly noticed was the vocal tracks. For a moment, I couldn’t believe it. Wait…was this possible? I could actually hear them. For years, I’d listened to Loveless, swept up in the hazy goo of it’s simplistic pop brilliance, nearly hypnotized by the haunting, layered vocal harmonies, all mixed (brilliantly) at the same level as the droning guitars. The fact that you were never fully able to make out what they were saying often lent an added measure of mystery to the music. The lyrics were never important. Not so much as the instrumental tone, or the feeling that it gave you.

In mbv, however, we can finally (without much difficulty) hear Kevin and Bilinda Butcher’s words, a welcoming change from their previous releases. I’d wondered, in the hours leading up to purchasing the album, just what kind of new direction the production would take. Mixing the vocals against the backing track seems to have been one of the hallmarks of Kevin’s studio genius, an about-face on a tried-and-true method of shoegaze engineering.

“is this and yes” remains the biggest anomaly of the album: a sprawling, organ and synthesizer-led track, Bilinda’s layered vocals cooing in a swirling, sonic lullaby. mbv bilinda
 The composition is almost classical in nature, a sort of modern take on baroque-pop experimentation, and a warm, cozy relief from the intensity of the preceding track. It’s a softer feel, more hallucinatory than groundbreaking. Not impressive as a standalone single, but captivating and beautiful, a trippy interlude that bleeds perfectly into “if I am”, on which we hear Bilinda take the lead once again over Kevin’s brilliant guitar work, acting as the perfect backdrop against the lovelorn, desperately sweet lyrics.

“new you”, while not true to MBV form, would probably be the best lead single for new listeners. Certainly, it’s the closest we’ll ever get to a pop single from these guys. The steady, syncopated beat, constant reverbed guitars, and soft organ all merge to form a pleasing, almost head-nodding beat. At first, it doesn’t even sound like an MBV song, but rather some radio-friendly hit from the mid-90’s. Yet it still has enough of the patented MBV quality to remain somehow elusive, both challenging and ingeniously catchy.

But it’s not until we get towards the end of the album that we actually see Shield’s musical genius finally gain some new ground. The final two tracks, “nothing is” and “Wonder 2” give us a glimpse into what this musical recluse has really been up to. Both tracks sear through the speakers in a violent outburst, the sonic violence of it all so completely engrossing, it escapes any and all definition. It’s part noise, part funk, part speed metal, part droning, part experimental, but all the while so unequivocally My Bloody Valentine.  “nothing is” treads on acid-house territory, an instrumental track that, seemingly, can only draw comparison to Radiohead’s “King of Limbs”. “Wonder 2”, however, seems to defy all predisposed notions of genre or tone, super charged with all the urgency of a panic attack. It’s an achievement, to say the least. While some have lambasted “Wonder 2” as unlistenable noise, some kind of freakish “fuck you” to the listener, it can’t be simply ignored or cast off. In it, Shields proves that while he’s been away from the mixing boards for quite some time, he certainly hasn’t been resting on his laurels.

Though not a major departure from Loveless, mbv most definitely delivers. Shoegaze fans the world over, rejoice. Your kings (and queens) have returned.

mbv kevin bilinda

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