Archives for posts with tag: Kevin Shields

Kevin Shields

After brief stints in Asia and Australia, My Bloody Valentine have returned to play in the UK for the first time since Kevin Shields promised and delivered the impossible. This O2 Academy Birmingham show was a late addition to the UK tour, added after alternative music fans everywhere became swept up in the chatter leading up to the possible release of the band’s new album m b v. Many would have bet that by this gig the album would still be unreleased, but the Birmingham show improbably happened in a post m b v world, and while it wasn’t an official sell out, it was pretty damn close. Certainly not bad for a band who have disappeared completely several times, and whose most critically acclaimed album, Loveless, only sold 200,000ish copies worldwide.

The Birmingham audience was dotted with aging, deafened-veteran fans, but they were in the minority, some of those in the crowd seemed to be so young that not only were they not born when Loveless was released, they probably couldn’t even legally drink when the remastered version came out. The crowd was comprised of people that had discovered My Bloody Valentine’s amazing and truly unique music (unique before they inspired droves of imitators that is) at some time in their life, even if it was years after the fact. But some people had probably just been dragged along by someone else that had found the band’s music, and were about to get the shock of a lifetime.

Even with the focus on their new material being at an all-time high they opened with the melodious duo of “I Only Said” and “When You Sleep” from Loveless. The woozy synth leads from both boast two of band’s biggest hooks, and for ten minutes people seemed to forget that the band has a new record out. As “New You” started they were quickly reminded, Shields played his oscillating guitar line with head almost pressed to his speakers. The band stood in front of video loops that were as cohesive as their production is. The images were marked with the same corroded and kaleidoscopic beauty that defines their songs. It was only upon seeing “New You” live that it finally became clear that it’s Bilinda Butcher who provides the sweet lead vocals. Her and Shields androgynous vocals were just as similarly inaudible as they sound on their studio recordings, almost to an irritating extent. It becomes a noticeable problem with their music when you lose the intimacy of headphones or home speakers, getting the right balance between quiet-but-audible vocals and louder-than-hell guitars must be close to impossible in a live setting.

They became the ear shredders that legend foretold with “You Never Should”, which completely did away with the laid back serenity of “New You”. They started the Isn’t Anything track with a significant volume bump to what was already a loud show. The legends must have spread, because this gig’s audience had the highest percentage of people wearing earplugs that I’ve ever seen. By the time Shields’ liquid slide guitar on “Honey Power” started, people were likely thanking the pieces foam in their ears. The addition of some aggressive and lesser known early EP songs made for a nice mix of sonically varied material that continued throughout their set, and it was a testament to their new material that m b v’s songs fit so seamlessly next to older and beloved tracks. With “Only Tomorrow” the volume somehow seemed to increase again, the warbling guitar drop and pained outro licks shook the stage.

Except for Butcher, the band members’ gazes were still fixed firmly upon their shoes; only Bilinda looked out at the crowd, as she softly sung with her guitar hanging motionless at her waist. It was the band’s lone acknowledge of their audience, and with the vocal mix being what it was, it was hard to tell whether Shields had said nothing, or merely little, to the similarly sedate crowd. He seemed to be lost within his guitar sound during a dissolving “Come In Alone”. Colm Ó Cíosóig’s snare queued up the wonky “Only Shallow”, with its guttural bass and reanimated six string squeal. Their set’s final visits to Loveless’ came in the form of the gorgeously muddled “To Here Knows When” and its stomping post punk closer “Soon”. The two songs bookended and overshadowed a messy version of “Slow” that seemed to leave the crowd unmoved.

They began their final act with the scraping slam of “Feed Me With Your Kiss”, an excellent blurry rocker with a dual vocal lead that trades between Shields and Butcher. But even midway through it you could feel people gearing up for the much hyped “You Made Me Realise”, with its supposedly apocalyptic and famed ‘holocaust section’ wherein the band play one note for as long and as loud and they can endure to. The beginning of the song came with another, possibly imagined, increase in volume, but the beginning of the holocaust section came with a definite and undeniable increase that redefined your definition of ‘loud’. As they dropped into it from the main riff you could feel the rays of sound tearing through your body and shaking your nervous system. Some of those without earplugs wisely covered their ears and others threw their hands above their head to fully embrace its might, as the volume slowly climbed past Jupiter and beyond the infinite. It sounded as if a rocket’s thrusters were burning and reverberating through the venue, conjuring visions of a hectic speed of light re-entry into our atmosphere.

For me, it provoked one of the strongest reactions that I’ve ever had due to live music or music in general, if ten minutes of intense distortion can even be counted as music. I was in disbelief that something so simple and theoretical had hit me so powerfully, that something so monotonous could be so beautiful and invigorating. Its frightening volume was probably the loudest thing I’ve ever experienced in person, definitely for such an extended period of time. That such a colossal, all-consuming noise was created by a small group of people with nothing but pedals and guitars is simply incredible. I feel bad for anyone that didn’t experience what I did within its blissful, troubled cacophony, and when the ten minutes were over my body was tingling.

It was awesome in the rarely earned non-hyperbolic sense of the word, an overwhelming and physical experience that no review or video will ever be able to faithfully capture or prepare you for, even I expected everything I’ve heard about it to be a ridiculous over positive appraisal of something that had to be a self-indulgent boring mess. But I’ve never been happier to be wrong, and for almost a quarter of an hour “You Made Me Realise” turned their good set into a great one. The section is completely dependent on its teeth shattering volume, and to turn it down would be to fatally defang it. Anyone who endured it without earplugs is dumb, but they have my respect. When the band returned to and finished the actual song part of it, it actually seemed quiet in comparison.

They broke tradition by not finishing with the song, and instead closed with the live debut of “Wonder”. Cíosóig left his drums and picked up a guitar as the pre-taped jet fuel percussion was piped into the Academy, and Shields’ unnerving vocals struggled to drift through the rumbling guitar layers. Following the distorted behemoth of “You Made Me Realise”, it was an unneeded but welcome addition to their set. It showed that My Bloody Valentine can still create loud and formidable anomalies that deafen you in the best way possible, even if their release dates are now twenty something years apart.

4/5

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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