Needless to say, when it finally did appear online and become available for order, a 90s explosion began. mbv trended on Twitter, their website crashed and listening parties were held all over the globe with many live posts made declaring a state of disbelief that people were actually listening to the follow-up to Loveless, one of the defining albums of 1990’s indie art-rock.
I investigated this social explosion of euphoria and hysteria only after I had listened to the album in a 1.5 GB WAV file three times through; I had to get a handle on what was on the record, first and foremost, before I could let other perceptions distort even further what would almost surely be a lovely, cloudy haze of guitars, pulsing backbeats buried in the mix, and soft boy-girl vocals cooing airily above it all.
I ended up getting exactly this sort of sound, packaged with a bunch of incredible suprises as well.
mbv begins with “she found now,” a song that instantly brings back the pink fog of that instantly recognizable 1991 album cover. It sounds like a direct sequel to “sometimes,” that lovely drone of a love song that you’ve probably heard in the film Lost in Translation.
Languid guitars and frontman Kevin Shields’s hypnagogic vocals immediately plants the listener back in my bloody valentine’s signature soundscape, comforting him with the knowledge that this isn’t going to be the jungle album catastrophe many people feared after reading Shields’s interviews circa 2007.
“only tomorrow” follows with a biting guitar tone and Bilinda Butcher’s trademark ephemeral vocals. Wonderfully weird pitch-climbing screeches of singing and guitar intertwine throughout the song. “who sees you” rounds out the first third of the album with Shields asking “Who do you choose?” serenading amidst grinding guitars about a love lost, or a love regained.
It’s ferocious and soothing at the same time, a quality that has made Kevin Shields’s production skills highly sought after and rarely matched by any other sound technician in the genre.
“is this and yes” marks a stark turn; guitars are replaced entirely by siren-like keyboards and synths. Butcher matches the keys with a siren voice of her own, taking her time and making her soft breaths audible within the stolid drone of the music surrounding her.
Nothing else in my bloody valentine’s library can quite be compared to this; it’s a soft shift in focus to another path the band treads with ease. The next track, “if i am,” brings the guitars back to attention, but they reappear much more softly in the mix.
Wishwashy effects resonate with very interesting chord changes that pulse back in within themselves, continually catching the listener off guard. And are those woodblocks in the background?
My Bloody Valentine has always maintained an interesting take on percussion; the majority of Loveless was recorded with electronically programmed drums buried beneath the organic guitars, but their classic dance track “soon” brought the drums to the top of the mix with a powerful and intricate live beat.
Drum and bass make another remarkable appearance on “new you,” what is easily the most single-worthy listen on the album. Tremendously catchy without being rote or repetitive, a boomerang bassline makes it impossible not to move your hips as Bilinda sings, “Too close/When it’s really with me/Something comes and pins me to the sky.” Even their catchiest numbers, echoing the sentiments of “soon,” remain impossibly vague while retaining an ethereal charm.
The final third of the album is when concepts are flipped entirely on their heads and Shields’s true levels of experimentation these past two decades really reveal themselves. “in another way” glides in with strange bagpipe/horn/synth (?) effects that blaze forth out of time and out of control; eventually, these are replaced with Shields’ hypnotically affected guitars, which end up spiraling into a heartbeat-rhythm solo that lasts throughout the last couple minutes of the track.
Those new synth tricks that Shields has picked up support the quick drum n’ bass in the background.
And here’s where it gets really interesting, a moment where Shields might actually might be trying to make a point outside the premise of pure dimensional songcraft. “nothing is” is an instrumental with nothing but jungle-rhythm drums and feedback-swathed guitar replaying the same riff over and over.
Although the rhythm section gets more and more intense volume-wise throughout the track’s three minutes, a crescendo is never reached, simply fading out once the time is up. It is quite simple and profound; the last two minutes are especially uniform, but they transfer nicely into the last mind-bender of a track.
“wonder 2” is drum n’ bass music on steroids, covered in flanger-like guitar and synths like peanut butter, bristled with lockstep bass and androgynous vocals, and finally topped off with the literal sounds of helicopter and jet engines.
It’s an aggressive and brilliant end to an album that starts with the comforts of the Loveless-era mbv we know and love and gradually shifts toward an atom-bomb finale that combines genres that shouldn’t work in a startling and beautiful way.
The album succeeds in being familiar and unfailingly experimental at the same time. Let’s hope the EP slated for release this year is… actually slated for release this year; I look forward to seeing where this new hybrid sound takes them. It’s good to have the world at large gazing at its shoes again.