10 out of 10 stars
Consensus: After 21 years, My Bloody Valentine delivers the long-awaited follow-up to their 1991 seminal masterpiece “Loveless”. It’s not only well worth the wait, but at times, it even exceeds “Loveless” and proves to be quite possibly album of the year.
Hopefully, My Bloody Valentine needs no introduction. The Irish alternative rock group has been around since 1983, and at a time, with only two albums under their belt, they became one of the most influential bands of the 1990s. In particular, 1991’s “Loveless” is considered by some to be the best album of the ’90s, with many preferring the album’s surreal hazy guitar work and psychedelic production over the simple punk rock tunes of Green Day, early Radiohead, and the Seattle grunge of Nirvana. “Loveless” literally raised the bar of what was previously thought possible in rock music, and was said to be the seminal album of a new genre called “shoegazing”.
“Loveless”, as said, came out in 1991…21 years ago. For a long time, there had been rumors of a successor to “Loveless”, but Kevin Shields, the founder of MBV, had driven himself insane trying to create something better than their critically acclaimed masterpiece. It’s said that he had recorded and shelved several albums’ worth of songs between 1996 and 1997, and every time he had prepared a deadline for the new album’s release, it would never show. The band broke up, but later reunited for a tour in 2008, gaining new fans. Around that time, Shields claimed that a new album was in the works, but it still left one question unanswered: When would it materialize?
Last November, Shields announced there would be a new album by the end of the year. It never happened. However, a Facebook post on December 21st claimed the album was fully mastered and ready for release, and last Sunday, Shields announced the album’s release to be within two or three days at a warm-up show in London. Since then, the excitement has grown, with everyone wondering if they will actually get to see the day when a new MBV album arrives.
Luckily, in our day and age, it’s very easy to announce and release an album without the help of a record label and traditional marketing. Radiohead and countless other artists have proved this with flying colors. Almost 24 hours ago, MBV announced they were preparing their new website and were releasing the album at midnight GMT. After several server crashes from hungry fans, petitions for the White House to fix the website, countless Twitter and Facebook rants, and the active competition for major music news publications to get on the action, the new album, “m b v”, finally materialized, 21 years later after “Loveless”.
Now with the new album finally out, several questions are emerging from fans and critics alike: Is this album worth the 21 year wait? Is “m b v” better than “Loveless”? Is this a good contender for the best album of 2013?
For me, it’s YES. A HUGE YES at best.
The opening track “She Found Now” is not at all the hard-hitting “Only Shallow” that opened “Loveless”, but rather a beautiful and blissful acoustic-like shoegaze ballad akin to “Sometimes”. To me, there is no better way to begin “m b v” than to start quiet. The next track, “Only Tomorrow”, still has a subdued mood, but the distorted glide guitar riffs, the angular chord progression, the quiet repeating drum loop, and Bilinda Butcher’s dreamy vocals sound as though it could have existed in the world of 1990s dreampop or a Slowdive album. Furthermore, the track feels as though it could be some sort of jazz fusion tune at times, with the strangely intriguing and evolving chord progression that occurs throughout. “Who Sees You”, however, is a huge reminder to audiences why MBV is so influential. The haunting vocal melodies, the warbling and jazzy summer-like guitar progression, and the distorted drumming…if anything, it reminds me a lot of Boards of Canada. MBV was a huge influence on BoC, but if listeners of both groups couldn’t pick out the direct influence before, then this song will make everyone see just how influential this band truly is on today’s musical landscape. Furthermore, it’s also one of my favorite tracks off the album, and I especially love how the track just ends unexpectedly, sort of like the opener track off of Portishead’s “Third”.
“Is This and Yes” is a mellow soundscape that brings the album back to a quiet state with an electronic organ drone, a soft drum beat, and Butcher’s haunting vocals. It sounds more like a filler track to me, but in all honesty, it’s a filler track that works wonderfully and sounds absolutely gorgeous. “If I Am” then brings back the smooth jamming of the second track, but with an awesome sounding wah-wah guitar that is unlike any other guitar sound I have ever heard in my life. It’s sounds as though it was taken from a funk record in the 70s, but with loads of reverb and distortion put on the guitar sound before the wah-wah pedal. It’s a pretty surreal effect, but ultimately a sonic effect that I enjoy a lot. The next track, “New You”, is a song many fans might recognize, as the band opened their warm-up gig in London last Sunday with this track. The driving, dance-able drum and bass groove is unmistakably 90s indie-dance sounding, with catchy vocal harmonies, subdued guitar effects, and a haunting flute-like melody. The whole track could technically be 2013’s “Soon”, except that the album doesn’t end here.
It’s important for me to note that at times, the first half of the album sounds as though it could have been released two or three years after “Loveless”. After all, how many of these tracks are actually new tracks from the past year or two? It’s hard to tell, but it’s very possible that some of these tracks are from 15 years ago, when Shields first tried to record the new album. Sound-wise, though, the mix sounds a little clearer, with the vocals more upfront and the drum beats cutting through the mix in comparison to having the guitar “layers” covering everything. Although, on “If I Am”, the mix sounds pretty similar to “Loveless”, which is pretty nice to hear considering that the album so far lacks any ground-breaking sounds. However, where it lacks sound-focused songwriting, it excels as far as progressions and melodies go. Regardless, this is some of the best music I’ve heard in a very long time.
“In Another Way”, however, is where the band starts to move past what they started on “Loveless”. The freaky high-pitched guitar noise at the beginning of the track is something I haven’t heard since MBV’s “Ain’t Anything” phase, and as a whole, the track is pretty piercing loud. Shield’s brand of glide guitar is present as ever, as is the loud drum beats and Butcher’s haunting melodies. However, the track also seems to evoke old Irish/Celtic folk tunes, with the main synth string melody sounding heroic, but at the same time possessing a sense of yearning and melancholy. I actually almost cried during this melody. It just brings out a lot of emotions in me. “Nothing Is”, however, is a MONSTER of a track. If you try to imagine how the looping drum beat and the guitar riff would sound live, well, then you’d probably see MBV moving into a direction akin to industrial noise groups like Swans (I’m specifically thinking of their “Mother of the World” track from last year’s “The Seer”) and the early hypnotic rock rhythms of The Velvet Underground. What’s important here, though, is the crescendo throughout the track. The last time I heard a crescendo this loud in music was in the works of Ben Frost, Glenn Branca, and Rhys Chatham. It’s just awe-inspiring.
Finally, we reach the end with “Wonder 2″…if “Soon” was one of the best endings to a rock album ever, then “Wonder 2” is about to beat it and all other album endings by a LONG shot. It’s rumored that Kevin Shields had made an album with drum and bass influences on it, but on this track, that rumor becomes true as day. The break-beat throughout is smothered with psychedelic flangers and phasers, as well as a TON of distortion. Also, it sounds as though there are several guitar layers on the track, just like what people thought with “Loveless”. When all these layers come together, along with Shields’s vocal melodies, the outcome is just an unexpectedly strange and beautiful conclusion to an already great album. I wouldn’t be surprised if Aphex Twin and a few other left-field DJs played this track out to audiences live at festivals, as it would certainly be a great fit to their sets. The final minute, however, is just insane, in that the track crescendos and the layers mutate together to create something completely mind-blowing and out of this world. Finally, the windy, resonant break-beat is all that is left, in that it continues to build until, like the third track, it suddenly stops, opening up a vacuum of silence to signify the album’s end.
Is it possible that “m b v” sounds as though it could have been released YEARS ago? Perhaps, but it’s understandable that Shields was determined to create an album that does not follow the third album trap of being worse than MBV’s previous works. Some people may think that “m b v” isn’t as strong as MBV’s albums 21 years ago, but to me, this album is a very logical progression of what the band is all about. For some people, “m b v” might not be better than “Loveless” and may not have been worth the long wait, but in my honest opinion, “m b v” is one of the best albums I’ve heard in a very long time. Where MBV doesn’t expand on their palette of sounds, instead, they improve on their songwriting and create hands-down the best songs of their career, and possibly some of the best songs ever written in rock and pop music. But when the band does expand on their sounds in the last half of the album, they absolutely kill the competition of creativity in rock music, and have once again raised the bar and sit high on a pedestal in the alternative rock scene.
“m b v” might not be an instantly memorable album for some listeners, and most regular rock and pop listeners will not understand the hype behind My Bloody Valentine, especially if they never understood “Loveless”. What’s important, though, is that My Bloody Valentine did not intend to make “Loveless 2”. They instead wanted to remind the world who they are as a band, and right at the end, they showcase in several new colors why they are one of the most influential rock bands in recent history. “m b v” fulfills all of that and more, and even if most people don’t understand it, the album is certainly the most unusual rock album of 2013, just as “Loveless” was the most unusual rock album of the 1990s. It’s quite simply not possible for any album released this year, nor any release of the past decade, to have the attention to detail, the amount of catchy musical moments, and the sheer mind-blowing and forward-thinking creativity that “m b v” already has. I can guarantee you all that.
This is without a doubt the best album of 2013 (note: I didn’t say that this the best of the year so far…I mean that literally, this is as good as music will probably get this year, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has put this album on a pedestal), and so far, the best album of the millennium. Every person should stop what they’re doing at this moment and listen to it. Even if they don’t understand MBV or like the album after listening to it, at least they took the chance to listen. This is an album that is worth 46 minutes of your time. Don’t hesitate on it.
Album: m b v
Artist: My Bloody Valentine
Genre: Alternative rock/shoegazing/dream pop/industrial post-rock/drum and bass (on the last track)
Self-released on February 3rd (UK) and February 2nd (US) via MBV’s official site.