Saturday, February 16, 2013

My Bloody Valentine intends to steal your mind and never give it back

For the uninitiated, or perhaps those who weren't born at the time, My Bloody Valentine's seminal release Loveless may very well sound like a typical 90s record. But the truth is the other way around: it's typically the 90s that sound very much like Loveless. That album, and the band for that matter, have become elevated to near mythical status in the 22 years since it was released.  Add to the fact there was no followup in that time, and Loveless became an album frozen in time, forever appreciated by their adoring legions of fans even though most of them had long since given up hope of seeing a new album.

This combination of hype, critical acclaim, and rosy nostalgia has given the band a rarely seen level of leverage and control over their long awaited followup, mbv. It's clear that the Irish indie shoegazers aren't making radical changes to the formula  but they do demonstrate that their hazy, lush, and atmospheric sound can manifest itself in a quite a few unexpected ways.

"Only Tomorrow" knocks the dust off, recalling everything that was great about My Bloody Valentine while also showing that this dog has learned new tricks. It captures that muddled, messy and hazy aesthetic that drove millions into rapture on Loveless, while also showing that Kevin Shields can speak in many different ways with his guitar strings. As the track progresses he mixes things up with several different guitar riffs, while still managing to sound like he's playing out of a cracked speaker in his bedroom. All the while, the torrents exuberance  youth and joy he's unleashing is enough to move even the stoniest heart. It's going to be hard to avoid being swept up in the tidal wave this album is about to generate.

They dip into their shoegaze side a little bit more on "Who Sees You," a much slower paced piece that calls to mind an array of fuzzy and distorted landscapes, while the vocals float over the top like a descending mist. It's like being on a ride at an amusement park, as your cart travels slowly along the rails, watching in wonder at the scenery unfolding before you.

Speaking of vocals, it's true that they have often functioned as just another instrument with the framework of each song. But the band isn't ready to let us forget that they are capable of crafting songs where the vocals are the centerpiece. They accomplish this task on "New You," on which Shields's voice penetrates to the forefront while the guitars and other instruments simply chug in the background. It's a nice change of pace, but the instrumentation gets a bit repetitive.

They also successfully demonstrate that they're capable of injecting some pep into their step. "In Another Way" is very upbeat and fast paced, powered by some acrobatics from drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig. The guitars move around from one riff to another, while a soothing synthesizer line comes in over the top near the end and ties everything all together.

Some design decisions work out better than others, however. "Is This And Yes" is a minimalist piece predominately consisting of some glistening keyboard and misty vocals parceled in very sparse. It certainly sounds different from the rest of the album, but it's a bit fruity. It smacks of something that should have been left to the 80s post punk scene.

"Nothing Is" is an abrasive, disjointed mood piece near the album's close. It does a great job of setting a vibe, but its inane insistence on repetition can't save it from its own monotony. Perhaps its main function is to set the stage for album closer "Wonder 2," the most rhythmically frenetic track on mbv. There's plenty of fast strumming and drumming, and it delivers a washed out effect. It's like listening to the band on a damaged radio when you've accidentally turned the knob a notch or two too far.

So after 22 years, what does My Bloody Valentine have to show for themselves? It's certainly not a flawless effort; its main problem being that it gets bogged down in repetition from time to time. It's certainly an album's album; aside from "Only Tomorrow" or perhaps "In Another Way," there aren't many pieces that work well in a random mix. And it is certainly requires a certain mindset. But it's not hard to be impressed by how versatile the band is in being able to cover a great deal of musical ground and maintain their sonic fingerprint while doing so.

Kevin Shields has proven himself a master at taking instruments every rock band in existence have played, and making them create sounds that almost no one else has ever produced from them. Most telling of all is the way he uses those sounds to create a wonderland so lush that if you find yourself lost inside for too long, you may never find the way out again.

Score: 91/100

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