My Bloody Valentine
For years, a new My Bloody Valentine album was sort of like the Apocalypse. Everyone talked about it, and a few were even convinced it was imminent, but most people assumed it was never going to happen. Then, in 2008, the band started playing concerts after a 15-year absence from the stage. Suddenly, that long-promised third LP—a follow-up to 1991’s epochal Loveless—seemed like it might actually be released before the end of the world.
On January 27, music blogs were buzzing about YouTube footage of My Bloody Valentine singer-guitarist Kevin Shields telling an audience that the new record would be out in two or three days. He was off by a few days, but—holy shit—suddenly there it was, available for download on the band’s relaunched website last Saturday night. The sky broke open. Angels wept. Et cetera.
But you know all that already, right? So onto MBV itself. Mercifully, it doesn’t sound like something that someone spent the better part of 17 years making. (Shields reportedly began working on it in 1996.) It is in no sense “overproduced”, although it is meticulously mixed for maximum headphone-bliss-out impact. The guitars are up front, with whammy bars churning away; the ever-bending pitch might make you feel as if the floor is spinning, or you’re spinning, or both. In the midst of that are the vocals, provided by Shields and Bilinda Butcher, delivering melodies that carry enough pure pop essence to anchor the songs when the narcotic swirl is at its most dizzying.
If “Only Tomorrow” and “Who Sees You” are business as usual, no one’s likely to complain too much. After all, we’ve been waiting one hell of a long time for said business to resume. And there are enough new sounds to give effects-pedal geeks and other such shoegazers wet dreams for months to come. Or, at the very least, to spark an endless number of “How the hell did they do that?” threads on gear-nerd message boards.
If that were all there was to recommend MBV, it would be enough, but Shields and company (mostly Shields, as it turns out) seem more eager to expand the My Bloody Valentine template than to merely pick up where they left off. “Is This and Yes” is a bed of shifting synthesizer pads—or something—with Butcher cooing sweet nothings over the top. It doesn’t really go anywhere, but then neither does “Nothing Is”—a one-bar loop of balls-to-the-wall guitar and drums that repeats for three-and-a-half minutes—yet both are still great songs, somehow.
MBV saved the weirdest for last. A rumour circulated in the ’90s that some of what Shields was working on was influenced by jungle or drum ’n’ bass, and sure enough, “Wonder 2” features a hyperkinetic shuffling beat, albeit one that has been so heavily treated with phasing effects that it’s barely recognizable. As for the rest of the song, well God only knows what’s happening. It sort of sounds like someone is playing a melted Stereolab LP and fucking around with the turntable speed. By the end, you’ll swear someone is trying to land a helicopter in your brain. Whether you think that’s a suitable reward for a 22-year wait is up to you, but I’ll take it.