Thursday, December 26, 2013

Year End Album Reviews # 6:

MBV by My Bloody Valentine, 2013

If you thought I was all agog with Bailterspace for making a great record with their second album into a comeback, then wait til you get a load of how I'm feeling about MBV.

Given the time that has passed since My Bloody Valentine's last record, and the stature of that record, it's probably silly to review the new one without heavy reference to the old, so if you can indulge, that's how I'm gonna approach things here.

I think the new one is better than Loveless, and that is of course very high but also perhaps surprising praise indeed.

Hard to figure out how Kevin Shields managed this. Between the LSD usage, the experiments with sleep deprivation, for all I know his attempts to talk to the dolphins, and of course the passage of 22 years, My Bloody Valentine's third album probably doesn't have much business being good at all, let alone surpassing a classic.

Yet it does. MBV has--except in one case--better songs than Loveless; it's got a more forward guitar sound, and its experiments, though fewer, are more successful.

My purpose here is not to disparage the band's second album. Yet I do feel that the praise Loveless receives is mostly based on the songs that bookend it. "Only Shallow" and "Soon" are I think quite clearly the best two songs on the disc. My favorite theoretician, Brian Eno, famously described "Soon" as "the vaguest music ever to have become a hit," and consider this: the song as it shifts moods back and forth between the overdriven, minor key bridges and the brighter choruses creates a confusion of emotion. Eno described the song as vague because the emotions the song conveys as it moves forward conflict, and the listener is left unsettled. It's a trick that Loveless and MBV both use to good effect, but nowhere is it more effective than on "Soon.". The song is an enigmatic masterpiece.

I don't think anything on MBV matches up to "Soon", but that's hardly to be considered a fault. Not when I think that the songs overall on MBV are stronger. My favorite tune on the new one, and therefore one of my favorite songs of the year, is the opener, "She Found Now." Blinda Butcher's heavily reverbed vocals as they do lull you, and make things seem sweeter than they really are, but the song erects an almost impenetrable wall of guitar, worthy of mention in its excess even for a band that makes a practice of erecting those amplified palisades. If you removed the vocals, and downtuned things a couple octaves, it'd probably make sense as a Sunn O))) track. It underscores the idea that I have that this is a more guitar-forward album than Loveless, as does (since I'm on the topic) the third track, "Who Sees You." Yes, the fourth song, "Is This and Yes," eschews stringed electrical instruments entirely, and devotes itself to Butcher cooing seductively over what sounds like an old Casio; but this song is an outlier. Elsewhere on MBV, it's the guitar that is the centerpiece--and are the endpanels.

Shields and Colm Ó Cíosóig were credited with sampler on Loveless and most often the sounds they sampled there sounded like mellotrons. Things never got syrupy--I think Shields liked the tool because it was another way to bend pitch, and evoke strange waveforms--but the sampled sounds did tend to make things feel less heavy than otherwise. There are no instrument credits on MBV, just for personnel, but the samplers are clearly less in evidence, giving the guitars that much more space.

"Touched," from Loveless, used the sampler extensively and is the album's most experimental track. But, you know, some experiments fail. Loveless is here and there called a perfect album, but, while I'll always give a tip of my hat to experimentation, "Touched" just does not succeed. It is true that MBV does not feel as experimental or as revolutionary as Loveless. Time probably explains the latter, while the former was probably Shields' choice. Yet the new album's most experimental track--"Is Nothing," 3-1/2 minutes of essentially the same riff, pounded unto its death, until your weakened brain begins hearing stuff that is most likely not there, totally works, whereas Loveless' most experimental track does not.

As you would imagine from my Bailterspace review, I'll be shocked if My Bloody Valentine follow up MBV with something even better. For one, I'm not sure that's possible, and besides, Shields had 22 years of consciousness raising (and depressing) to draw on in this album's composition; he's got less time now.

We've all got less time. But Kevin Shields can tell us, and wag his finger at us too if he'd like: never say never.

Five Stars, the best I heard in 2013

File under: Music That Celebrates Itself


TAD said...

OK, but are you going to do MORE? Your fans are waiting....

Mark White said...

The site prides itself on being fiercely independent and honest in its coverage of albums. Northern Transmissions has never deleted any reviews, even recently rating one of indie rocks biggest act Arctic Monkeys with a score of four out of ten, for the bands latest release AM. Album Reviews