My Bloody Valentine – MBV

Released – 03/02/13 (Pickpocket Records)
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My Bloody Valentine - mbvFor the newcomer to My Bloody Valentine, their music can come to some as a bit of a shock. It’s not like anything you have ever heard before, and it can be an acquired taste.  My Bloody Valentine hail from Ireland and were formed in 1983. After a number of single and EP releases, their first long player ‘Isn’t Anything’ was released in 1988.  The thing with My Bloody Valentine is that their music is very loud and very chaotic, but conversely very gentle. It can feel like an assault on the senses, but with further inspection, it can also be incredibly soothing.

EP’s ‘Glider’ and ‘Temolo’ followed ‘Isn’t Anything’, but their second album was to prove a little longer in the making, taking two years to produce. Kevin Shields (band leader and lead guitarist), is known for his perfectionist tendencies, and there is no better example of this than in ‘Loveless’.

The rumour was that their record company (Creation Records) had spent so much money on production of Loveless that they had almost gone bankrupt. As the story goes, had Creation not signed Oasis at when they did, they would have folded. However this was later dismissed, and from memory I think Alan McGee’s slightly avant garde ‘management style’ may have been part of the reason. I digress.

‘Loveless’ was well worth the wait, and was released to immense critical acclaim in 1992. To this day it is hailed as a modern classic. Loveless marked the beginning of what would be My Bloody Valentine’s trademark sound. Layed guitar buzz and feedback, filling every frequency with noise, whilst maintaining the most delicate of melodies. Initial reactions to the record were that the vinyl may have been pressed incorrectly, or some thought their turntables had developed a fault. The wonky, grinding of guitars sounded alien, and like nothing else anyone had heard. It was truly experimental. In the making of the album, Kevin Shield had employed countless custom-tuned guitars, and the techniques the band used remain under wraps even today, adding to its legendary status.

Following the release of Loveless, and the subsequent press courting which took place, My Bloody Valentine disappeared from public view. No more records were to be made, and no more touring was announced. A number of factors could be cited for this, but no one knew the real reason; contractual wranglings, the financial situation their record label, Shields and his perfectionism, issues with fame, the pressure to follow up such a successful record?  All could all be very tangible reasons.

The band reformed (although they never officially split, they just stopped making records) for a number of shows in 2008, and Shields released a solo track ‘City Girl’ to be featured on the soundtrack of Sofia Coppola’s film ‘Lost  In Translation’.  A couple of years later there was talk of some festival appearances, and a hint that they might be back in the studio to record some new material. After the press commentary My Bloody Valentine had received for the time it took them to release Loveless, they were obviously very guarded around timescales.

The third record ‘MBV’ was announced and released almost overnight on the 3rd of February 2013. It was only made available via the band’s own website, possibly as a reaction to previous contractual issues. Obviously anticipation was high and the pressure to deliver was huge.

Opener ‘She Found Now’ rumbles in and gets straight down to business. Classically My Bloody Valentine, the sound is similar to that of Shield’s earlier solo track ‘City Girl’. It’s full of bass, with grinding guitar. Shield’s whispers lyrics over the noise, and chords change to hold the track together. On first listen it’s a relief to hear that in terms of their sound, there have been no radical departures. It’s like hearing from an old friend. After waiting for new material for as long as fans have been waiting, it’s a little nerve-wrecking to know what we will have in ‘MBV’. As an introduction to the album ‘She Found Out’ doesn’t not disappoint, and it almost relaxes the listener into the album. It’s all going to be fine, they haven’t gone all Dubstep or anything like that.

‘Only Tomorrow’ starts with a swagger, a quickening drum track and luscious bass riff. Vocals are (typical for My Bloody Valentine) almost completely inaudible by now. We’re home. It’s a beautiful noise and one that fills every frequency in your head. Part way through, the bass deepens for the instrumental passage, and then we’re back into another beautiful verse, with some feedback sprinkled over the top for good measure. It’s delicious. For the huge amount of sounds and guitar tracks on offer, its delicacy is incredible.

Third track in ‘Who Sees You’ is almost reminiscent of the first My Bloody Valentine long-player release, ‘Isn’t Anything’, in that it holds a more traditional musical structure. Shields’ soft vocals over the wall of guitar noise feel like a lullaby. It’s incredible how soothing they can make a very noisy tune feel. It’s like hearing something otherworldly.   ‘Is This and Yes’ begins the first of three tracks sang by Belinda Butcher. Butcher’s vocal is reverbed over a minimal track comprised of mostly chord changes. It’s interesting, and holds almost infinite layers and depth, despite this seemingly simple construction. Again, it’s dreamlike, even while it’s literally pummeling every inch of your aural senses.

Mid-album ‘If I Am’ begins with a rumbling and repetitive drum track. Butcher coo’s run slowly across a delicious baseline. The track hits a beautiful riff at the chorus, which is then repeated with increasing repetition towards the end of the track. This is an incredibly beautiful piece. For everything on offer here, this is the one that will stay with you most. The guitar riff will get into your bones and you’ll find yourself humming it hours later.

‘New You’ is the most commercially sounding track on the album. It’s almost yearning for a dance remix. As with the previous two tracks, vocals are lightly whispered, almost implied. It’s light and airy, and the feedback and the guitar grind has been replaced by a more upbeat feel. For My Bloody Valentine, it is bordering on pop music. Butchers vocal sounds like a dream. This track could literally run for a couple of hours and you still wouldn’t want it to end. Most of the tracks on MBV weigh in at just over five minutes, but in most cases you wish they would go on for longer. Despite Shields being sighted as a perfectionist, he could never be called indulgent. These tracks never run out of ideas. Everything works, and everything has been polished to perfection.

The final three tracks of the album showcase some of the more experimental material. ‘In Another Way’ sets up as a dramatic piece, but doesn’t depart from the soft mood of the album too significantly. The interesting change which My Bloody Valentine play here is into the chorus where the guitar sound and riff change almost entirely, it sounds like a completely different piece of music butting up against the verse. The drumming remains constant providing some continuity across the bridge, and there are some (presumably) intentional gaps left in to enhance the changes, but it sounds like two tracks welded together. I’m sure this will be the centerpiece of the live act, it sounds immense and works really well. Even on repeat listening, this track reveals something new on every play. Shields was very keen to talk about how there was nothing digital in the recording or production of this record, and ‘In Another Way’ is testament to this. It feels completely organic, and almost as if it changes its shape and structure whenever it’s played.

Nearing the end of the record, things start to become more challenging. ‘Nothing Is’ is a huge repetitive riff that glides along barely changing, never slowing down and refusing to develop into anything even vaguely kind to the ears. It adds as fantastic bridge into final track ‘Wonder 2’.

In the years building up to the [possible] release of this record ‘Wonder 2’ is how I expected My Bloody Valentine to sound. It feels like the next step in their development as a band. It has frantic, relentless drumming, swooping guitars, a wall of feedback and the sense of being lulled into what this tune is about, before that being removed and replaced by a ton of noise and frequency that you can barely believe could exist inside the same track. It moves along quite nicely and then suddenly it is completely in your face. It’s awesome and surprising on a level I haven’t heard in a long time. It will take a couple of listens to ‘get it’, but once you do you will almost be yearning for an album of tracks sounding just like this one.

So was it worth the wait? I believe it was. I don’t think anyone wanted a complete departure from the band we fell in love with twenty years ago. I wanted to hear new tracks from a band that no one else has been able to copy in all of that time. Nothing will touch My Bloody Valentine in terms of their musical and creative ability. They are the one of the best bands ever, in my humble opinion. They could have really pushed the experimental side of their music, and risked everything, but the joy of this record is that they were able to do that (‘In Another Way’, ‘Wonder 2’, and especially ‘Nothing Is’) but also balance it with a set of amazingly well polished tracks, which are well within their comfort zone. It’s a hint at what could be next for them, and hopefully we won’t have to wait another twenty years for it.

Mike Conyard