Review: My Bloody Valentine - mbv
Where does one even begin when attempting to write about the unprecedented third album by My Bloody Valentine?
Do you begin with the near mythological backstory surrounding the 20+ years that passed between the release of 1991’s Loveless and now? What details of the story are even true? Did Loveless bankrupt Creation Records, their label at the time? Did frontman Kevin Shields pretty much lose his mind through a better part of the late 1990s? Or, the question everybody would certainly like a straight answer to—why did it take over 20 years to release a follow up?
The mere idea of a follow up to Loveless became somewhat of a music industry punch line for years—the same way that Chinese Democracy and Detox were (and still are) punch lines. The same way that we are all still waiting for D’Angelo to release his third album—but D has only kept us waiting for like 12 years.
For the last six or seven years, there have been faint rumblings of a third MBV album—rumblings that Kevin Shields never really stopped working on new music, and that music the band apparently recorded in the mid-90s sounded better than he remembered it being. There are the band’s occasional bursts of “reunion” shows in various European countries. There were the much-delayed reissues of their first two albums, as well as a compilation of EP tracks. There were the breadcrumbs left by Shields in interviews, saying the band was working on new material. And that they could have a record out by the end of 2012.
On the day the world was supposed to end, December 21st, 2012, My Bloody Valentine announced via Facebook that they had finished mastering their new album. December ended, January began. No new album. During a warm-up live show, to shut up a heckler asking about the new record, Shields said to the audience that it would be out in “maybe two or three days.” That was on Sunday, January 27th.”
The Internet was ablaze with rumors. Two and three days passed. No sign. Then, Saturday, February 2nd—again via Facebook, it was announced that the album was going to be released that very night via their newly redesigned website. 6:00p CST, the website went live, and proceeded to crash. And oh how it crashed. Eventually by 8:30 or 9p, the server issues had been worked out, and people were actually able to pay money in exchange for a record they thought would never come out.
A band like My Bloody Valentine doesn’t seem like they are built for 2013. The entire way music is distributed and the way artists interact with their fans have changed so dramatically in 20 years. For a band that basically started a fucking genre, it doesn’t seem like they should be announcing their album release via social media. But in 2013, that is how you get things done.
(they were so dreamy)
On Twitter, while waiting for their server issues to be corrected, #mbv was a national trend. One tweet said something to the extent of “an album we’ve waited over 20 years to hear shouldn’t be first listened to via mp3s.” Again, in 2013, this is how you do things. Kevin Shields, a beyond notorious audio perfectionist, probably cringed at the idea of people first hearing his record in a compressed 320k format. But to the average person who only buys music via iTunes, and only listens to music via an iPod, they have no idea what they are actually missing between a digital format and true audio fidelity from a vinyl LP or even a compact disc.
As I opened my acquired zip file, with a folder of mp3s named “MBV,” and placed it into my iTunes library, hitting play on the first song, it still didn’t seem real to me. Like the actual concept of this record existing in the physical world was too much to comprehend.
The name of the third My Bloody Valentine album is mbv. Yes, all lower case. And the song titles are also all lower case. It is nine songs long, and clocks in at around 47 minutes. Since the physical product won’t ship out until the end of February—it’s available in a limited edition LP/CD set, as well as standard CD—you are left with nine mp3s and no liner notes. But who is to say there will even be liner notes once my actual record arrives in the mail? This is a band that couldn’t even be bothered to write up something for the 20th anniversary reissue of Loveless.
mbv is a transcendental album. There is no telling when this material was written or even recorded. This could be music from the scrapped mid-90s sessions, or this all could have been recorded in 2012. Would I say that it sounds “timeless?” Maybe. Would I say that it also harkens back to the sound they defined in 1991. Definitely. There are songs on this record that would fit in very well with their Loveless-era material, specifically the song “new you.”
In a somewhat-recent interview, Kevin Shields claimed people who had heard this material thought it was “stranger” than Loveless. I guess to my ears, the sound of Loveless is commonplace, so this collection came off as being the next logical step for a band that has decided to move forward after a 20 year hiatus. There are hints of their post-punk past, there are obviously elements of Loveless, and then there are completely new ideas.
mbv is a big record. It sounds expensive. And it sounds gigantic. On my first listen, I sat on the floor of my living room, headphones plugged into my laptop, watching my companion rabbits hop around the living room, while my wife worked on designing a website in the dining room, oblivious to what was occurring within my headphones. There were times where my eyes grew wide at what I was hearing. Listening to this for the first time, I suppose, is like being a young child on Christmas morning.
The mixing on Loveless has become the standard for what “shoegaze” is considered to sound like—the guitars are loud as fuck, the vocals are mixed low and sound unintelligible, and everything else gets packed in between. The mixing on mbv is completely different. It is, for lack of a better word, robust. Each song overtakes your headphones completely. You can almost hear 20 years worth of perfectionism in every note on the record.
Both their debut full length Isn’t Anything and Loveless begin with a sequence of snare drum hits. However, this record begins with a guitar crunch that sounds like it is a direct continuation of the song “Sometimes.” “she found now” is a slow burning opening track of fuzzy guitar shoegaze glory. It also features somewhat alarmingly clear vocals from Shields himself. Even more alarming is the second track on the album, “only tomorrow.” It’s a song mixed so well, it humanizes the band—meaning that even though it’s common knowledge Shields did most of the instrumentation himself, you can hear distinction between guitars, bass, and drums, along with Belinda Butcher’s ethereal vocals—it’s easy to imagine four people making this song occur.
The first three songs on this album are near flawless—the third song, “who sees you,” continues to push in a “we sound like a band” direction, as well as harkening back to Loveless with an otherworldly distended guitar buzz throughout the song. When the song comes to a sudden end, an interesting thing happens. When you hear the final guitar screech stop, you can actually hear studio noise for a brief moment. Reminding you again, that real people are responsible for this music.
The album’s fourth track takes an interesting turn into keyboard city. “is this and yes,” I hate to say it, could be written off as a bit of a clunker. It is certainly a step backwards from the momentum gathered by the first three songs. It’s by no means awful, but it seems out of place—like it was recorded by a different band, like it’s a demo track, or a b-side. Synth pulses beep and boop for like five minutes, while Belinda Butcher’s voice floats wordlessly over the top of them.
Thankfully things pick up, and fascinatingly so, at the halfway point with “if I am.” A very percussive heavy song, powered by what I imagine to be usage of a wah pedal on the guitar. Not like 1970s funk kind of wah. Wah that creates textural waves of sound. As with a majority of this record, the mixing is breathtaking—everything you hear has a direct impact on you.
As mentioned earlier, the song “new you,” that effectively starts the second half of the album, is a direct continuation of the final song from Loveless, “Soon.” It features a very similar groove, along with a very dreamy tremolo effect on the guitar and some very 90s elements in the production—the slight flange drums leads one to believe that this was maybe recorded during the scrapped mid-90s sessions.
mbv is sequenced in a way (save for track four) that is sectioned up by feeling, and really builds towards something. What it builds towards is the final three songs on the record—all of which lead to a reaction of “holy shit.” Among many of the rumors circulating about My Bloody Valentine is that at some point in the 90s, a heavily influenced by drum and bass record was recorded and then subsequently scrapped. This influence, either intentional or not, hangs over the final three songs on the album.
“in another way,” is, dare I say, triumphant sounding. This is the kind of song that can barely be contained within the confines of your headphones—I can’t even fathom what hearing this song performed live would be like. I just imagine it would be an ocean of bodies, jumping up and down, collectively losing their shit for five minutes. The drums are beyond huge; the guitars alternate between an almost deafening yet catchy squall, and a heavily compressed and aggressive crunch.
The song ends somewhat suddenly, and there’s only a brief pause before “nothing is” begins. And Jesus Christ. This song is fucking relentless. Three minutes of pounding drums and buzz saw guitars, over and over again. The song sounds like it wants to explode and destroy whatever device you are listening to it on, and it seems like throughout, parts of it get ever so slightly louder, until it all just stops, and the drum loops flickers out into nothingness.
The final track on the album is “wonder 2.” The beginning has the most obvious drum and bass element—it’s based around a reversed sample of your stereotypical beat from any 1997-era club banger. It’s so distorted though that it sounds like it’s an airplane taking off inside of your brain. Then comes the onslaught of guitars. And then comes the vocals. Then comes the same drum sample, only played forward instead of in reverse. To say that almost too much is happening on “wonder 2” is an understatement. I imagine that traveling at the speed of light after smoking crack is similar to listening to this song. It is, without a doubt, one of the most bat shit insane things I have ever heard.
And then it’s done. All the noise stops, both directions of samples come to a close and echo into the distance. And if you’ve been listening to mbv from start to finish, after it’s over, your ears should be ringing. And if you’ve been listening from start to finish, when it’s over, your first instinct is to start it all over again.
(not as dreamy/not built for 2013)
Given all of the hype leading up to this album actually being released—expectations were, you know, high. If someone was expecting Loveless Part Two: This Time Its Gazier, they may be disappointed. But it is truthfully a mistake going into an album like this with any preconceived notions. After 20 years, and after creating an album that started a genre, and spawned a million copy-cats, and is considered to be one of the greatest records OF ALL TIME, how do you top it?
The thing is, you don’t. You don’t top it at all. You take a step back (in this case, a step back meaning 20 years) and you find what the next logical step forward is. How will music history remember mbv? As simply “the third album by My Bloody Valentine?” As an album that broke the internet?
In the end, it doesn’t matter if these songs were record in the 90s, or in November of 2012, or how it will be remembered 20 years from now. What matter is that this is what happens after Loveless. This is what My Bloody Valentine sound like in 2013.
mbv is available to purchase digitally now, directly from the band. You may also pre-order either the LP/CD set, or just the standard CD.