If you’ve not been under the proverbial rock and/or on an almighty all-consuming bender for the last few days, you may have heard that My Bloody Valentine released an album over the weekend. The rather uninspiringly titled m b v is the band’s first album since 1991’s epochal Loveless, and as such, it’s had the music world going batshit, so much so that the band’s website crashed under the weight of people trying to download the record. It’s also led to an almighty scramble to get reviews published — but rather than trying to punch out a “definitive” review on the strength of two hasty listens and much cursing of MBV’s servers, we thought we’d settle for doing pretty much exactly what actual fans are doing: hitting “play” for the first time and marveling at the fact that we’re listening to a new My Bloody Valentine album in 2013. OK, so, here we go…
“She Found Now”
Kevin Shields’ ability for extracting sounds both heavy and somehow beautiful from his guitar clearly remains undiminished by the two-decade gap since Loveless. This track is basically a luxurious wash of fuzz that’s the sonic equivalent of settling slowly into a warm bath after a day outside in the cold. Soft as snow but warm inside, indeed.
And there’s a really lovely chord change about now that’s not unlike “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
It’s amazing how this band can get so much traction out of a single idea. This is basically one chord progression and one guitar sound, along with some understated vocals. (It’s kinda hard to understand the lyrics, too — nothing new there.)
Still the same idea. The whole track is basically one cyclical verse and no chorus. But it works so well.
Abiding first impression: this is beautiful.
Same textures, only with a driving bassline, a quietly punchy backbeat, a distortion sound that’s less fuzzy and more abrasive…
…and Bilinda Butcher on vocals!
It comes with the first proper guitar solo, a spiraling Shields workout that’s rendered in his trademark woozy, de-tuney sound, as if the amp’s about to entirely melt down at any given moment.
People have already started arguing that the tracks on this album are too long, and you can see why — this one also comes with a three-minute outro that consists of the same guitar figure repeated ad infinitum.
As far as we’re concerned, though, it could go on forever…
… which, in fairness, it pretty much is.
“Who Sees Now”
Extended intro! There’s a distinctly drone-y Spacemen 3-esque aspect to this track, along with the same guitar-dropping-in-and-out-of-tune sound that characterized “Only Tomorrow.”
Each of these three opening tracks has featured the same guitar sound underpinning the entire song, a wash of sound that fills the mix and presumably made this album a nightmare to produce. In the wrong hands, it could sound awfully muddy; here, there’s enough space and subtlety to ensure that the vocals and low end don’t get entirely lost.
Vocals. It’s Shields, this time.
This really could have walked straight off either of the band’s earlier albums. Cue the sound of a thousand reviewers preparing poison-pen pieces asking how in god’s name it took 20 years to make this.
Your correspondent is genuinely gazing at his shoes at this point…
… which does making typing kinda difficult.
“Is This and Yes”
Cue the sound of a thousand reviewers cursing and deleting the last couple of paragraphs about there being nothing new on this album.
This is more dream-pop than shoegaze, with Butcher doing her best Cocteau Twins impression — it’s hard to know what she’s singing about, but it doesn’t really matter, because it sounds so pretty — over a quietly minimalist background of icy synth tones and a beat so muffled it’s barely audible, like the echo of a party several blocks away.
Abiding impression, again: this really is beautiful.
“If I Am”
“Is This and Yes” bleeds into another dreamy Butcher-fronted 4AD-esque piece…
… the key difference being that this one comes accompanied by a repeated “wah” guitar figure rather than the gorgeous synthery of “Is This and Yes.”
Still, the fact that otherwise, this track and its predecessor are functionally identical is perhaps not a great sign, although the fact that they’ve been sequenced together makes for a rather lovely ten-minute mid-album bliss-out.
Curiously enough, this is the shortest track on the album, but it seems to last the longest, perhaps because the whole working-one-idea-for-several-minutes angle tends to work best when the idea is interesting.
There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just that it seems to fade into the background somewhat.
Not so much nodding head as nodding out at this point. This would be a lovely track to fall asleep to, and that’s not entirely a backhanded compliment.
Cut! Bisch Bosh-esque silence for a second…
…and then a curiously noodly synth outro. Next!
Ooh, more bass!
Butcher on vocals again, and this time she’s right at the forefront of the mix, perhaps due to the lack of the wash of feedback that characterizes the first half of the album.
Cue the sound of a thousand reviewers wishing they’d Ctrl-Xed those paragraphs rather than deleting them.
Honestly, if there’s one track that seems to be dividing people so far, it’s this one — a largely uninspiring piece that lacks the sonic interest of earlier tracks (there’s no distortion at all, just a tremolo guitar that’s subjugated to the bassline in the mix). It sounds… thin, which is not an adjective I ever thought I’d use to describe this band’s sound. The track kinda just meanders along, despite the fact that it comes closest to a verse-chorus-verse structure of any of the tracks on this album.
Similarly, the outro here is less sumptuous than superfluous, burbling along for two long minutes of “do-do-do”s and making this track feel longer than its sub-five-minute running time.
Apparently the dude from Elite Gymnastics is going to take this and put the Amen break underneath it. We await the results with interest.
“In Another Way”
And, wait, speaking of breakbeats, what’s going on here, then? This track is underpinned by a scattershot drum pattern that’s straight outta late ’90s dance music, which is… a rather unexpected development, put it that way.
There’s also that sax — at least we think it’s a sax — that sounds like a sly nod to Funhouse, along with a metric fuckton of distortion. The feedback wash isn’t as pronounced as earlier on, though, giving the track a greater sense of space and dynamism, without sounding as anemic as “New You.”
Butcher on vocals again. Shields seems to have pretty much abandoned the entire idea of being a singer by now.
Epic synth tones that sound like the soundtrack to a dramatic film of mountain vistas and crashing oceans!
And, of course, there’s an extended outro. The whole thing is pretty ace, in other words.
Um, and now for the extended jam session. More manic drumming, more amp-imploding distortion, no vocals at all. It sounds like My Bloody Valentine playing the mid-section of Violent Femmes’ “Add It Up.” Honestly. We’re not sure what this all means.
And it goes on like this.
Here come the warm jets. The guitar on this track recalls a plane taking off, and the whole thing sounds like it was recorded at the other end of an aircraft hanger. God only knows how you get guitars to sound like this.
It’s hard to describe this without aeronautical similes aside.
Vocals that sound like they’re coming from the other end of an aircraft hangar!
Seriously, this is impossibly epic.
And now the synths (is that even a synth? It’s hard to tell) kick things up a notch — from about here for the next two minutes, the track’s entire mid-section is a series of apparently ever-escalating tones, like one of those MC Escher stairways that just keeps going up and up.
It sounds like the whole thing is going to rocket off into the stratosphere, possibly taking the integrity of your speakers with it…
WE HAVE LIFT OFF.
The whole track flames out in a breakdown of double-time drumming and the sound of jetplane guitars heading for the horizon.
Down, down, down, down, down….
And now to hit play again.