m b v

It’s going to be hard to take m b v as just an album; so many things have become part of its narrative during the 22 years of on/off anticipation since the release of My Bloody Valentine’s seminal Loveless. And to many it is just a narrative, as the fans that waited the full 22 years now seem to be a minority within their fan base. People have had a long time to discover My Bloody Valentine for themselves; maybe the 2008 reunion shows sparked their interest, or last year’s long promised reissues. But one thing’s for sure, whether you bought Loveless on its release day or picked it up in the late 2000s to ‘see what all the fuss was about’; Kevin Shields didn’t make his new album for you. Even though its recording process spans three decades, it doesn’t really sound like it could sit comfortably within any of them. Shields just took his time, locked himself away, and made an album that’s not aimed at any member of his expanding audience in particular.

The only thing overtly modern about m b v is its release method. It was dropped unceremoniously on their website on a Saturday night/Sunday morning, but clearly not unceremoniously enough because the website instantly crashed for three hours, trapping the album in limbo as the Indie Rock tweeters and Last.fm users made it seem like billions of people were clawing at the virtual record shop doors with their F5 fingers. It was probably closer to 10,000ish (which is still a potentially a hilarious over or under estimation) but the anticipation was infectious and the stories of people desperately trying to order the limited LP before they had to wait 20 odd years for a remaster, or buy the mp3s before Shields change his mind and junked the whole thing, will always be the penultimate chapter in the albums long story.

Many Brits stayed up to three in the morning just so they could confirm that m b v sounded like My Bloody Valentine before they went to bed, but the chatter lasted long past the hours of waiting for Kev to reset his router. There were the hyperbole prone first tweets, the questionably early full reviews, and the battle over whether to capitalise the song titles or not. Can lowercase song titles really be part of Shields’ agonisingly careful artistic vision? Or is there just a lazy intern at a recording studio somewhere? If it’s the first option then this intense struggle over whether to capitalise his song titles probably delayed the album by at least seven years. It seems like a deliberate stab at appearing casual, with Kevin attempting to hide his 22 years of obsessing over minutiae by pretending he couldn’t even be bothered to capitalise the song titles or think of a better name than the simplistic m b v.

By the time you finally had it sitting on your hard drive and ready to play it almost seemed weird that all of that attention and discussion was spawned by 46 minutes of music that most people hadn’t even heard yet. When you distance yourself from all of that, and listen to it enough to not think someone is knocking on your door when you listen to “Is This and Yes”, you can finally just take it as a My Bloody Valentine Album. It’s a much lower key album than Loveless, with no hooks as massive or assaultive as “When You Sleep” or “I Only Said”. But it’s just as sonically rich and the opening guitar strum of “She Found Now” repeatedly duplicates and vibrates into the ether. It’s a beautiful opener that’s mastered at a whisper, Shields sighs his lyrics into a stormy hum of distortion, and a weighty repetitious guitar thud replaces any percussion. It captures a gorgeous and relaxing sound that is just warped enough to ensure that your mind is never quite at rest. It’s a familiar juxtaposition and the opener begins a run of a relatively gentle first six tracks, a loose simple set of songs that find structure and form within the mix.

The guitar textures melt and crumble on “Only Tomorrow” and woozily sway through “Who Sees You”, as Shields’ airy vocals swirl between them. Bilinda Butcher’s airy androgynous purr drifts through the snappy beat and rippling slide guitar of “If I Am”, which ends with the tape reel being rewound into another dimension. Shields and Butcher have the same weightless singing style; they are loud in the mix but mumble, whisper and coo their lyrics. The light dance beats of “New You” are the only evidence of the last 22 years of music having any influence on m b v, but the opening guitar oscillation is a little “How Soon Is Now?”. It’s the albums most immediate and clear track, helped by a sweet vocal lead and a slow synth notes.

The albums final third throws away the gentle sequestered guitar tones for a more hectic and abrasive conclusion. The dance beats of “New You” morph into aggressive industrial beats after the panicked squealing guitar choir of “In Another Way”. “Nothing Is” is a hell broke loose instrumental that slowly cranks up the volume and lays waste with hypnotic repetition, its intensity fades out instead of stopping. Otherworldly closer “Wonder 2” shows that the jet engine comparisons have gone to Shields’ head. The fire alarm guitar lead and marching band snare sound as if they are being sucked into the engines of a thundering Boeing 757, and Shields’ vocals become unnerving calm as the suction pulls them apart.

m b v doesn’t sound like the flawless, painfully constructed, radical reinvention that you would expect to result from 22 years of work, but it’s a great album. It’s so similar to his previous work that it’s ridiculous to think that every second of those 22 years went into its production. There’s a great book to be written about its troubled recording process, but that would take away the fascinating mystery surrounding it and probably reveal a boring reality. My Bloody Valentine still sound like themselves and that is also to say better than the countless imitators that sprang up in their absence. It’s more of a companion to Loveless than an entirely new album, with songs that don’t appear fully formed. It misses and wastes a few of beats and can feel both too long and too short in different spots. m b v is not the landmark that Loveless was even if its arrival was greeted with a much bigger fanfare. It’s more of a resumption of My Bloody Valentine than a reinvention, and that definitely isn’t a bad thing.

4/5

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