by Rob Wilson
m b v
My Bloody Valentine
I could write about music for centuries and I’d still find it hard to write a review about a band who last released an album before my parents had even thought of me. Not being alive for a certain event in history can mean that you don’t get to feel its impact in the same way as those that either witnessed it or were there for it – and unfortunately this is the case with Dublin’s shoegaze distortion masters My Bloody Valentine, who haven’t unveiled a full-length LP of new material since their sophomore album Loveless was released in 1991. Little did anyone know at the time that Loveless would go on to be one of the most influential and critically acclaimed albums ever released. And now, after more than two decades of rumours, lies, jokes, memes, release delays, live shows and record label bankruptcies, My Bloody Valentine are back. But putting it that way makes it sound so much simpler than it was on the night of Saturday, February 2nd 2013…
A conversation with friends died down as I reached into my pocket to pull out my phone to check Facebook and indulge myself in the pointless updates of my online friends. I scrolled half-heartedly through more tedious statuses that let me know who was going to bed while I was out. And then I saw it: the link that had been promised just five days before by My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields – a link to the new album. And just like me, it seemed the entire world flocked to the band’s newly designed website to download it – the website subsequently crashed and was down for more than five hours. This sparked a frenzy of Twitter activity on a scale that I haven’t seen since Gillian McKeith fainted for a second time on I’m a Celebrity back in 2010. But amidst the panic there were the occasional voices of reason, reminding every frustrated fan that if some had waited twenty-two years for a new My Bloody Valentine album, they could wait for another day – and so, the world went to sleep.
On the morning of February 3rd 2013, the fans that had waited up until the small hours woke with smiles wider than a child’s on Christmas day as they rushed to their laptops to give themselves a fresh injection of nostalgia. And the memories they surely have encased in the fuzzy guitars that made Loveless such an inspiring and memorable listen for so many are soon released once again, as the wall of warm noise that has gradually become My Bloody Valentine’s identifier returns in the shape of the opener, ‘She Found Now’. In place of the instantly aggressive quadruple smack of the snare that opens Loveless’ iconic opener ‘Only Shallow’, a warm wave of distortion surrounds cleaner guitars just like it did two decades before, with Kevin Shields’ spirit-like vocals sounding as though they were filtered through a small tube among the calming chaos. While ‘She Found Now’ sounds ideal for a closing track, the way it opens the album ends any worries that My Bloody Valentine have lost their touch after twenty-two years without each other – the guitars almost snuggle you back in to My Bloody Valentine’s world, each chord evoking the events of the teenage years of the dedicated listeners that have waited so long for a moment like this.
Once the initial fears of this album being any good are pretty much out of the way, it’s time to settle down and enjoy the ride. Second track ‘Only Tomorrow’ builds repetitively towards a memorable riff, allowing Bilinda Butcher to introduce herself to the microphone again – her vocals also buried in the mix underneath the shattering distortion. ‘Who Sees You?’ is the first time we hear the drums boom around the place in the way they did so many years ago. They’re joined by a slow, straining riff as it rolls around in the ever-present fuzz of distortion before reaching its almost elephant-trumpeting peak as Shields’ hovers as a ghost once more. Already the worries of m b v being one of the most highly-anticipated disappointments ever are disappearing, and as ‘Is This and Yes’ announces itself with breezy synthesised organs, My Bloody Valentine touch on new ground and begin to slowly walk forwards from Loveless. The violence of the distortion is nowhere to be found, and neither is Shields – Butcher is the ghost of Christmas past, present and Christmases yet to come as she floats upward, towards glittery clouds, taking each listener through where My Bloody Valentine have been, where they are now and the places they wish to go.
As ‘Is This and Yes’ fades away, the full band returns in shape of ‘If I Am’. Colm Ó Cíosóig’s drums are heard clearly as the guitar fuzz takes a longer break than expected, returning only in the form of a generous hook as Butcher’s vocals float around in the air. Butcher almost sings in the form of a lullaby before a rather surprising track, by My Bloody Valentine’s standards at least, begins. It’s not often you associate My Bloody Valentine with accessible borderline pop but the lack of distortion and emphasis on breakbeat drumming on ‘New You’, that matches the bass riff beat for beat, could be found underneath the jangling guitars and twee vocals some of the 90’s most accessible guitar pop music – forgive me for suggesting that if ‘New You’ had been released as the first single immediately after Loveless – in 1993, for example – then Sixpence None the Richer could have taken it and put their own spin on it.
And the progression in sound and ideas don’t stop there. ‘New You’ fades out slowly before ‘In Another Way’ bursts in with high-pitched squeals and energetic drums that leave no gaps. The distortion returns but doesn’t swallow the strings that emerge and remain strong until the very last second. The penultimate track is probably the most unusual track on m b v, and probably the most unusual that My Bloody Valentine have ever recorded. Keeping in theme with their famous, or perhaps infamous, “holocaust” – a sometimes 45-minute long segment of their live shows that is simply the playing one chord and one chord only at ear-shattering volumes – ‘Nothing Is’ builds the same one-bar phrase upwards, with each bar growing louder than the last before quickly fizzling out, as if My Bloody Valentine had blown up a balloon and then let go of it without tying a knot in the end.
But it’s the final track that steals the show: ‘Wonder 2’ combines an unusual, barely audible, almost drum and bass, beat with broken up samples of a plane in flight as the vocals almost reach a chant-like delivery. It’s almost as if you could play the video to Pink Floyd’s ‘On the Run’ underneath ‘Wonder 2’ without spoiling the show. It gives the impression of travelling almost at light speed through the clouds, looking down on time itself and laughing. And then you sit there and ask yourself one question and one question only: “Why were we worried?” My Bloody Valentine have not just returned, they have progressed. They have written m b v as if they’d traveled back to the early-to-mid-90s. This does not sound like a comeback album, this sounds like a long-awaited follow-up. Is it better than Loveless? No, but I never expected it to be. Will it be as influential as Loveless? Unlikely. But it’s “Welcome home”, it’s “Welcome back” and it’s “Sorry you ever left us.”