REVIEW: My Bloody Valentine – ‘m b v’

m b v my bloody valentine

Band: My Bloody Valentine
Album: m b v
Label: N/A
Genre: Shoegaze, Dream Pop, Alternative Rock

I’m a sucker for albums whose cover art encapsulates the music contained. It’s one of the many charms of Loveless, My Bloody Valentine’s second album and their only album that anybody gave two hoots about before February 2.

The cover is the outstretched arms waiting to take you into Loveless’ warm sonic embrace. The distorted, blazingly pink wash of color over what appears to be, on closer inspection, an electric guitar, is the perfect visual accompaniment for the eleven tracks of ecstatic brilliance within. It’s pretty and vibrant. It’s also in your face, slightly obscured, and obtuse. This conflict and contradiction, the discord found when unabashed beauty is mixed with pummeling heaviness, is a neat trick that My Bloody Valentine uses time and again over the course their breakthrough release. It pays off in spades. 

Just one second into “Only Shallow”, the first track on Loveless, and the music slams right into you. Sometimes the guitars, in their alien tunings, are howling out the harmony. Often it sounds like there’s a whole gang of them, like on “I Only Said”, when it’s just frontman Kevin Shields and his tremolo bar doing their thing together. Then there are tracks of cooing, swirling incomprehension like “Blown A Wish” and “To Here Knows When”. They’re exceedingly beautiful.

Loveless has a basis in reality though. You can occasionally understand what Shields and vocalist Belinda Butcher are saying and what’s being said is probably English most of the time. It also had a traceable lineage; many of its melodies and vocal lines harken back to the psychedelic pop of the 60s.

So what were fans to make of m b v’s cover? Instead of a mottled, washed out static image, the cover art for m b v is a collage of photographs and drawings. Not that fans were really meant to make anything out of it in the few short hours before m b v would see release.

m b v was a known unknown. Shields had been talking about writing music for a new album not long after Loveless dropped. Sure, the band mentioned that they had mastered an album around Christmas time, but so what? How many false alarms did we receive about Chinese Democracy during the decade in which it came together? Detox still hasn’t dropped yet.

Let me take a quick break from this for a Public Service Announcement: bands, if you need to follow-up a highly acclaimed release and you’re taking a while to get everything together, just don’t say anything. To anybody. Wait until you’ve got your album finished, get the tour prepped (DON’T ANNOUNCE THE DATES) and then, plop. Out comes the album. That way your fans aren’t clamoring for another record because they don’t know if they have to. I was more excited for the release of m b v than I was for any other album in years.

So, back to the review. Here’s the thing: m b v sounds basically like the cover looks. Or really, what one potential interpretation of the cover can stand for. Notice the repetition in the images. That’s one of the big motifs m b v explores, especially over the last 10 minutes or so. Closer “Wonder 2” has a panned drum break that threatens to tear the song apart. With the guitars, yes I’m pretty sure that’s plural, building to a deafening klaxon, it’s Shield’s voice that manages to hold everything together. Overall, it kinda sounds like Animal Collective. We can’t carbon date the track, so who knows if it was written pre- or post- Merriweather Post Pavilion. Eighth track “Nothing Is” is a Lightning Bolt song too cuddly to make it onto Wonderful Rainbow. The same harsh riff over and over and over again, it might be the weirdest track on the whole album.

Yes, m b v is noisy. The noise often has a comforting familiarity though. There are little surprises here and there – that heroic soloing to open “In Another Way”, for example. And is that a violin on “Only Tomorrow”?!  – but the album is about as logical a next step as can be between albums for this band or any other. It’s incredibly easy to imagine “Only Tomorrow” or “Who Sees You” slotting into Loveless between the cracked, shambolic blues riffing of the former and the squalling solos in the latter. The carousel swing feel of “If I Am” and the straightforward breather that is “New You” make up some of those beautiful moments that don’t need to be earned. In terms of track placement “New You” is especially effective. Downright poppy, it’s the calm before the whirring roar of m b v’s closing trio. It’s the most straightforward song on the album, to the point where it almost could’ve been made by one of My Bloody Valentine’s more talented acolytes.

At a surprisingly lean 47 minutes, m b v could stand to be a bit longer. Not because of its gestation period, but because it leaves you wanting. Most of these songs hover around the 5 minute mark but wouldn’t be hurt if they got stretched out. Say, if the band played live and jammed out a little. Just a thought.

Kevin Shields is a sonic artist in the same way that The Edge of U2 is a sonic architect. By utilizing an almost overwhelming array of effects (the board Shields uses when playing live holds about 60 pedals), he can approach music composition much like an artist working with physical media would. Also, as a personal matter, I would love to know when and where some of these songs were recorded and written.

Speculation is a moot issue with m b v. In a perfect world you would be able to enjoy its rewards in the abstract, context and comparisons be damned. Unfortunately we are burdened with history and back catalogues, connections that we choose to make and are beholden to be influenced by. So, m b v is a worthy successor to Loveless. It’s also a beautiful, strange, inventive album in its own right. If it takes another twenty-some odd years for My Bloody Valentine to follow it up, then so be it.

Rating: 9.5/10
Review written by Dayton O’Connor. Pick up m b v here or stream the album here.

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