Before this review goes any further, let’s reflect: It’s 2013. After years of hype, rumors, heartbreak, internet hints and untimely server crashes, you just opened a review of a new My Bloody Valentine album.
And that’s unbelievable.
No less, this review is tackling the follow-up to the band’s critically beloved, impossibly unique Loveless—An album that: cemented the shoegaze tag in the musical parlance of our times; birthed the phrase “swirling guitars” from Kevin Shields’ shrieking, reverb-drenched, eerily tremolo-ed Fender Jazzmaster; showed young musicians how to not utilize a recording budget after nearly sending the band’s label, Creation Records, into bankruptcy; and oh yes, once stood as the band’s final—and (to many) perfect—musical statement.
Loveless’ sonic staples hit listeners immediately and with little explanation, but they’re also what set the album on a plane of its own in the early ’90s. Hell, reviewers still spill handfuls of words (many of them fairly unhelpful, as this review might reinforce) to explain even the album’s guitars (provided by both Shields and vocalist Bilinda Butcher), which sawed and wailed in sharp contrast to their own lulling, nearly gender-less coos. With Loveless, the band could be as crushing and commanding as “Only Shallow” or “Loomer” and as heartbreaking as the throbbing “Sometimes,” a song whose musical backdrop might remain hazily shapeless if it wasn’t for a defined acoustic guitar leading the way. Take this as a reminder that Shields was a decent songwriter who could use perfectly placed aural bells and whistles to craft a bare-bones progression into something that was a lot more.
For those who adored My Bloody Valentine, Loveless was complete in a way that after more than two decades past—not to mention an impressive debut in 1988’s Isn’t Anything—it’s easy to see why fans almost cringe at the thought of Shields and Co. releasing anything afterward. But naturally since then, there’s always been talk (mostly rumors) of a follow-up. Some said Shields had produced tons of material only to toss it out, some said the album was being recorded under eyebrow-raising musical influences. But in the end, some speculation wasn’t too far off, with Shields later confirming that, yes, the band had indeed thrown material away because “it was worth dumping.”
But from what he said in interviews, it seemed like there was no lack of faith in himself, and that My Bloody Valentine had at least one good album left in its collective hands. After nearly a decade of dormancy, the band started gearing up for a few scattered (and tinnitus-inducing) live shows in 2007. At this time, Shields told Magnet that a new My Bloody Valentine album was only a matter of time. Most importantly, it wasn’t colossal budgets or band difficulties that ultimately brought the idea of a follow-up to a stand-still, Shields assured.
“We are 100 percent going to make another My Bloody Valentine record unless we die or something,” Shields said. “...A lot of people say the reason My Bloody Valentine didn’t make another record is because we couldn’t. That’s mostly true, but not because we couldn’t make another record, but because I never could be bothered to make another record unless I was really excited by it. And just by fate or whatever, that never happened. I’m quite optimistic about the future, even though experience has taught me that I’m probably just delusional. I do feel that I will make another great record
I’d feel really bad if I didn’t make another record. Like, shit, people only got the first two chapters, but the last bit is the best bit.”
Years passed, and although Shields talked recording a new album to both Pitchfork and NME in 2012, fans took the words that we’d have a new album “before the end of the year” with enough skepticism that you’d have thought they came from a braided, goateed Axl Rose. And even with the promise/threat of new music, there was that question—can 20 years between albums ever be a good thing? Shields thought so. “I think with this record, people who like us will immediately connect with something,” Shields told NME. “Based on the very, very few people who’ve heard stuff—some engineers, the band, and that’s about it—some people think it’s stranger than Loveless. I don’t. I feel like it really frees us up, and in the bigger picture it’s 100 percent necessary.”
It wasn’t long before the band announced Japanese dates. Then U.K. dates. Then, like the Christmas Eve miracle it was, My Bloody Valentine announced it had completed mastering on its latest album (the final step in audio production), and all of this “new album talk” seemed a bit less like wishful thinking and more something to get excited about. Nearly a month later, on Jan. 27, Shields infamously told a fan at a London gig that the album would be out “in two to three days,” sending the Internet into a frenzy that left eager fans (myself included), never leaving their laptop or mobile device too far.
And while Shields was a little late to the punch (m b v was released Feb. 2, five to six days late by the guitarist’s estimate), he was on-point about basically everything else—Er, once his server finally settled down and allowed people to download the album.
That is, people who liked them did immediately connect with the record, and, yes, Shields and Co. made another great album.
We’ll get the obvious out of the way: The album was released Feb. 2. I am releasing this review on Feb. 5, meaning I’ve had a staggering two/three days to take the whole thing in. Is this review premature? Probably. Have I served myself heaping helpings of m b v over the weekend? Absolutely.
For fans, the album’s surprise release is one of the most special things it has going for it; Writers, fans, casual listeners have all heard and experienced this release in the same period of time. By the time the band’s server finally went up, communal listening parties were taking place, whether a group was crammed around someone’s decked-out stereo, or a single person was tweeting after listening from earbuds. We’ll all agree, it’s been a while since we’ve had something like this that’s free of early previews and press buzz.
Contrary to the few (and fellow premature) reactions I’ve glanced over, this isn’t Loveless 2. Although m b v’s hazy artwork has the album title emblazoned in stark contrast, although this album features Shields playing those treble-scooped, gnarly guitar parts of his, m b v is a whole different beast. To my ear, the production doesn’t feel nearly as glossed or obsessed over as its decades-older sibling (this isn’t a bad thing). Shields doesn’t bother to dull his guitar’s sharp edges on tracks like “only tomorrow” and “in another way,” instead creating a raw, true four-piece definition of instruments that we heard on early cuts like “You Made me Realise.” If we’re talking the concluding part of a trilogy here, m b v feels like it’s wrapping up the band’s arc by revisiting old, very old material and bringing something new to the table entirely.
I can see where the Loveless comparisons stem, especially when they’re leaning on quick listens and with a track like “she found now” kicking the whole thing off. It’s classic My Bloody Valentine, with guitars (and their feedback) setting the pulse, rhythm and several melodies. But it’s pretty clear when track two’s clunky, soft-punched drums kick in that we’re in for something completely different, and that’s solidified when MBV meditates on a fuzzed-out, Harrison-esque guitar lead. Maybe this is Shields’ take on lo-fi, but it still somehow sounds like the follow-up to an album that still shouldn’t come out for 20 years.
m b v showcases Shields’ impressive look at progressions, which you could probably argue define the band’s sound as much as anything else. Take a look at “who sees you,” a dark, shifting track that would probably sound painfully awkward on an acoustic guitar, which seamlessly glides across the fretboard with the help of Shields’ tremolo bar and some serious amplifier wattage.
And even at its most simple, we’re given “new you,” an ultra bare-bones look at the band (and no coincidence the first song from this album the band tried out live, which was called “Rough Song” on a setlist in London). It’s a looping, bass-heavy track that shoves Butcher’s voice up front, proving that even if MBV’s vocal melodies might be soft and mixed in with the common instruments, they’re pretty damn good.
At the end of the day, Kevin Shields promised us a new My Bloody Valentine album. Although he might have been off by a few days (or years, depending on how you look at it), it’s incredible that a band so removed from its definitive statement has released something so true to what it set out to do. My Bloody Valentine successfully followed up a decades-old classic with m b v, an album that stands as confidently, beautifully and masterfully composed as its predecessor. And if you had any questions about it being over-hyped, remember this: Shields might not be great with dates or calendars, but a quick blast on a home stereo will prove he’s unbeatable in the studio.