Music Reviews

My Bloody Valentine mbv

(self-released) Rating - 8/10

Twenty-two years can be a long time. Imagine all the things that pass in that timeframe, all the milestones and transitions that mark a person’s life: your first day of school, your first kiss, graduating from high school, marriage. And through all this, a contemporary soundtrack usually accompanies it. We may venerate the classics as essential, but ultimately, these are the ones that we stock in a shelf. It’s an old reliable that just sits there, waiting to remind you of how special it can be if you just give it another spin. An album like Loveless falls in a special time and place for those who were either adults or teenagers at the time; for those who weren’t even born then, it’s since then been branded with a critics’ seal of approval, a post-modern aural piece for those who are studious about the history of music to cherish it.

I can’t even begin to imagine the suffering of any My Bloody Valentine devout who patiently waited all those years for a follow-up to Loveless. But it finally did. And while you let the thought that this album really exists sink in, the best to do is to enjoy it as a living document of our present, even if it occasionally sounds like one that was captured after being lost instead of one that was written for today. mbv treads a similar ground to its predecessor, and for those who expected something different, it couldn’t make more sense how it sounds just as uniform. Loveless still stands as one of the most bizarre essential albums in pop history – it’s regarded highly for its advancements in production rather than its songwriting aspect, a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band if you will, but those who’ve made a deeper connection with it understand how it operates. It’s not meant to be a big statement about America a la Joshua Tree, or one about revealing the depth of one’s character to the world for the first time like Like a Prayer; not every record becomes a classic in the same conventional sense. Hint: the more you read into it, the less you get out of it. The main thing it has always had going for it is that, of course, it’s downright pretty.

Approaching the content of mbv as if were about to dissect a frog is certainly the wrong way to analyze it; as Mark Twain once wrote, “you learn a lot in the process, but in the end you kill it”. You’ll only end up disenchanted by it. Or perhaps it is because My Bloody Valentine begets the exercise of deliberate and intense scrutinizing. Album opener She Found Now is reflected like an inkblot Rorshach test, how it may hit different nerves in different people. The similarities to Loveless are striking, especially to Sometimes, how its serrated guitars occasionally come into the foreground, gently permeating with a subtle, beatific dissonance. You begin to wonder if this is an elaborate ruse orchestrated by Shields. Only Tomorrow is made with the same mold, except that Shields gives all its surrounding elements a bit more breathing room; without the constraints of having to follow any hit parade – in 1991 and its succeeding years, promoting the image of shoegaze was paramount to stand out – it’s as if Shields fully extends the use of ambience because he knows it’s not going to be edited in a format that will please a cable channel executive. You can sense how that fuzzed out drone flutters over the undulating bass, sharpened by a relentless, compressed chug that is pulled into a halt every so often; Shields even rips a histrionic wail on the song’s bridge, and then loops it all the way until the song ends. Try to find one of those in Loveless. You won’t find it, or at least it won’t be as noticeable.

The middle section in mbv locks into a snugly tight haze, yet the comfort in hand could only be accredited to how My Bloody Valentine are once again playing on the turf they mastered. Who Sees You follows with that classic reverse reverb technique, a cycling cacophony that just meanders through a tenebrous rift.  It’s unsettling, yet tranquil, how the song leads you into a stupor with its soft, floaty guitars until it abruptly ends once you’re starting to settle into the groove. If I Am wafts like a reverie of weightlessness, which then takes a more titillating turn with its warbly, wah-wah effects. Moreover, the strummy, radiant sheen of New You could very well be their poppiest song on record, one that extracts all their layered, noisy accoutrements and augments the delicate range of Bilinda Butcher’s voice. A crop of neo-shogazers have rewritten these tracks countless times, and judging by the popularity of the genre – which even boasts its own Internet radio station – it makes for a fascinating point of comparison between their former and current copyists.

The last third of mbv is where My Bloody Valentine shed their predictability to some extent, except that the shift in tone isn’t as surprising as it leads you to believe. In Another Way adds an industrial, marching beat, serving a touch of rhythm into a gliding effect that’s almost formless, and yet it finds a way to sneak up some melodic texture into the song’s propelling repetition. It warms you up into the rancorous lethargy of Nothing Is, which appends a Chuck Berry riff to its core, ingeniously injects it with steroids, and bombards you with it until your tolerance level begins to wane. Alas, this one-two punch only leads to the below par Wonder 2 – the frantic, whirling percussion eddies with the sweeping motion of what sounds like a helicopter about to take off, giving emphasis to the glory days of drum and bass too overtly. If anything, these are the tracks that could’ve predicted what a My Bloody Valentine album would’ve sounded like had their contract with Island post-Loveless yielded any results.

It took all this time for Shields to answer that all too significant question, what would the follow-up to Loveless sound like? And one could eternally romanticize the development of mbv as a painstaking journey to perfection, and learning that such a record came together as a result of all the band members coming together only proves that the reasons behind the delay were, well, human. mbv follows its predecessor without aggrandizing its past resources, and as such, delivers a wallop of sweet, sweet distortion in a way that comes naturally to them. The days of foreshadowing the next evolution of the guitar are over, and for someone like Shields, there’s nothing at stake for them anymore as far as expectations go. Loveless was like an inadvertent call to the demise of the Gulf War, the glistening of hope creeping beneath a sonic battery of harsh soundscapes. It pointed towards a bright future, and just like that, they disappeared without any trace. In today's age, the significance of their return holds as much significance as the rise of a company’s stock earnings; we’re in awe now, but once it fizzles  in a few months we’ll wholeheartedly anticipate the next big surprise. Shields stopped because he understood that expectations are ephemeral, and now that they’re back, he’s relishing the moment with his bandmates until it's time to go back into hibernation.