Friday, February 8, 2013

Album Review: My Bloody Valentine - m b v

Album Rating: B+
I wonder what would happen if we brought Monet back to life. Suspend your disbelief for a moment and imagine with me. Out of the cloning center he strides, scratching his beard, scruffy as ever, as we watch on intently. He’s locked away in his studio apartment for weeks (painting, we presume,) his publicist or roommate or mailman emerging every now and then to tell us he’s burned another canvas or he’s working on the finishing touches. And then, it happens. The news starts flooding in as we furiously reload the front page of New Art “Is it going to look like the poppies?” someone cries. “I hope it’s more like the water lilies,” says another. Meanwhile, I’m wondering how, in an endless slush of lonely housewife imitators and $10 coffee-store prints, our hero could ever hope to be as relevant alive as he was dead.

The morning after My Bloody Valentine released their third album, m b v, I woke up a little too early and with a headache. The night before, I had played a bit of the album from Youtube. The volume was low and there were people all around me talking. Kevin Shields, if you’re reading this, dry your tears. I knew the situation was all wrong, but I couldn’t wait anymore. 1991’s Loveless had an affect on me beyond words. It redefined beauty and proved the immense power of ambiguity in a way that’s kept rock music reeling for decades. And so, after a hearty breakfast, I pulled out my headphones, shelled out 16 bucks, cranked up the volume on my ipod, and prepared myself.

Opener “She Found Now” is a vacuum, pulling us almost immediately into a gurgling inferno of noise that’s as alien as it is familiar. The band changed the way we think with pulsing fuzz and shapeless rhythms just like these, and now there’s nothing more comforting than being lost in the hiss. In all, it’s one of My Bloody Valentine's most stunning compositions, harking back to the infinite expansiveness of tracks like “All I Need” and “To Here Knows When.” As with all the band's best work, it's transportive, muting the real world and creating a sensory experience that’s something... beyond. There’s this overwhelming feeling throughout that a page is being turned, or even that the book is being closed. It’s a gorgeous, heart-wrenching eulogy. Their legacy, shoegaze, the indie rock world of the past 22 years, it all feels so far gone for about five minutes and six seconds. As far as first tracks go, it’s master-stroke, at once panning and exceeding all expectations, declaring with conviction that, yes, this is your bloody valentine. 

The clear, crisp chords shifting and ringing endlessly over it all set the tone for the rest of the record. Where the songs on Loveless were built around screaming guitar figures that boxed in ascending and descending verses, m b v is free-flowing, even improvisatory. It feels like Shields was working chord to chord, moving his fingers however it felt right. This method leads to slices of pure, spontaneous bliss, as on the wildly discordant “Wonder 2,” which evolves faster than the human ear can hope to process, or the equally psychotic “In Another Way.” Tracks like “Only Tomorrow,” on the other hand, end up feeling a bit meandering without a definite shape. It’s a good song, full of ideas, but it carries on to the point where it loses impact, and the head-bobbing arena riff repeated 900 times (interestingly, the square root of how many times it’ll play in your head) towards the end feels almost too basic. Herein lies the first great flaw of the album: in more than a few places, excellent ideas are squandered and replaced with the overwhelmingly mundane. Songs start out fresh and full of promise, then fail to come through, giving way to melodies that feel somehow empty compared to past work.

One thing’s for sure, though: My Bloody Valentine have proved here that they’re not afraid to try new things. Still, the further they drift from their formula, the less natural it sounds. “Is This and Yes,” a space-station-in-orbit ambient piece augmented by Bilinda Butcher’s wordless vocals, still sounds like an exquisitely produced GarageBand song after 10 listens, and the tremolo indie-pop swinger “New You” remains unfortunately cringe-worthy. Shields hits a cheesy 7th chord at the chorus and suddenly his generally immaculate guitar work sounds entirely uninspired. If he’s really the ultra-perfectionist-Brian-Wilsonian the media makes him out to be, he’s let quite a few things slip under the rug.

Clearly wary of the challenges that go hand-in-hand with following up a masterpiece, Shields & co. have attempted valiantly to find some middle ground between the concrete and the undefinable. On most songs, you can see right through to the bones: strumming guitars, thumping bass and stuttering drums, just like the good ‘ol fashioned rock & roll band My Bloody Valentine isn’t. Every now and then on “Only Tomorrow,” Shields even takes a break from his wall of distortion to engage in a moment of silence and a quick palm mute. That being said, the way the vocals were filtered has more to do with the wispy, earth-to-space transmissions of Loveless than the relatively untreated indie-rock deadpan of Isn’t Anything. This careful balance of the real and the strange in places establishes a fresh sound for the band that can be pretty pleasing, especially on the flanged-out “If I Am,” which is a certain album highlight. At first, it may be hard to get over the uncharacteristically obvious use of effects. There's no denying there's a guitar behind all that seething and flowing. When Butcher's vocals start layering in upon one another, though, and striking guitar riffs start cycling endlessly behind, it's hard not to feel moved. 

While the blemishes hurt, and they can get pretty ugly, we can’t try and hide them. This is a critical document in popular music, though it may not be remembered that way. For me, it signals the end of an era. The gods of self-obsessed texture rock are gods no more, but hell, they can still make a beautiful mess. Tap your reverb pedals in reverence, and cover your ears. Tinnitus really isn’t cool, guys. 

Official Website

Track List:
1. She Found Now
2. Only Tomorrow
3. Who Sees You
4. Is This and Yes
5. If I Am
6. New You
7. In Another Way
8. Nothing Is
9. Wonder 2


  1. Yeah I just wasted 15 minutes reading your rhetoric that obfuscates any genuine emotion about this real music.Thanks please stop writing about music / art you don't understand.

  2. Well at least you actually read the article (I hope) rather than saying "oh, it automatically sucks." What specifically didn't you like?