Every genre has its ‘Chinese Democracy’—that long drawn-out and oft promised album that never seems to arrive. Rap has Dr. Dre’s ‘Detox,’ Rock had Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Chinese Democracy’ (which did eventually come out), and Indie Rock had, until last week, My Bloody Valentine. It’s been almost 22 years since their dreampop/shoegaze masterpiece ‘Loveless.’ That album inspired a whole generation of musicians and the musical landscape is a vastly different place. Many gave up hope a long time ago that we’d ever see another release. After all, how can you top one of the best albums of the 90s? You don’t. You create something that’s at the same time familiar yet pushes your artistry into new territory.
Out of nowhere a new album arrives to a frenzy strong enough to crash the band’s newly redesigned website. The Internet, a place of instant gratification, was furious over being teased with an album, only to get a 403: Forbidden Access error. Some people even took to Photoshop to make light of the situation:
Early the next morning the website and album reappeared. Simply titled ‘mbv,’ the band gave several options for acquiring: digital files of various quality (including 24/96 wav files!), CDs, and an all-analogue vinyl. The physical purchases offered a digital download as well. They even uploaded every song to YouTube! Once my high quality files downloaded, the headphones went on and yet again it seemed like this band transported me to a different realm; not in the same immediate way ‘Loveless’ did, but still.
Let’s get one thing straight: this is not ‘Loveless’ and no album ever will be. Stacking it against those impossible odds would do this release a disservice. Now, with that out of the way, it’s a relief to say the album is fantastic and gets better with every listen. It’s a slow burn, with more textures, melodies and beautiful moments that reveal themselves upon continued listening. It may only be nine tracks, which may not seem like much after 22 years, but it’s a matter of quality over quantity. It’s still a full experience. A friend of mine who’s much more hardcore about the band than I broke it down like this, and I tend to agree: it’s a journey with three distinct parts, the first third being the Loveless-esque tracks awash in woozy reverb, the 2nd third that’s the beautifully melodic pop, and the final third, which is a holocaust of noise.
Assuaging any fear the band lost the plot in their absence, the album begins with “She Found Now,” a gorgeous and subtle use of that practically trademarked reverb and hushed vocals. It feels familiar and eases us in instead of hitting us over the head the way “Only Shallow” did. Continuing in the same vein yet a little jauntier is “Only Tomorrow” where the rhythm is fast enough to even bob your head to, yet still has those signature hushed, androgynous vocals that provide perfect counterpoint to the wall of noise they’re buried in. At 6:21 it’s the longest track on the album, but never overstays its welcome. You can easily get lost in the blissed out fuzz of guitar sound. This bleeds straight into “Who Sees You,” which slows the pace but cranks the dizzying reverb to epic proportions making it the song most like tracks from ‘Loveless,’ and honestly could have appeared on that album. Not only is it that good but it also retains that sound we all know and love.
You’ve had a nice break, so buckle up and prepare for a wild ride. “In Another Way” roars to life with feedback and a drum loop before adding those signature guitar sounds and more soft vocals. The song has a very repetitive structure, but it works for the composition. It conjures feelings of watching pounding factory machinery in a cloudy dream. “Nothing Is” may start with quiet hum, but then another repetitive beat comes along throttling your ears. There are not even any vocals in this one; listeners are left with just the constant thudding beat. By this point it becomes clear that the band is experimenting with elements of drone, working it into their typical wall of sound, relying more heavily on drums and loops to carry the piece than the stacks of guitar tracks.With assurances to fans out of the way, the next section of songs takes things in a different, more ambient and pop direction. “Is This and Yes” throbs to life with bass and twinkling electronic sustain. It’s a beautiful and calm respite from the brutality of the previous track. The vocals are a little more in the forefront than usual and create a sense of serenity.
“If I Am” picks up the pace a little and adds in some guitar, but keyboards and beats still drive the track with guitar just filling in extra texture. It’s not exactly a pop song, but it’s upbeat, sweet and incredibly melodic. This quieter third of the album ends with “New You”—the closest the band comes to a pop single. On several listens this was my favorite track, because it combines both new and old elements; there’s the hazy guitar and familiar vocals, but it’s set to a toe-tapping, jangling beat and the vocals feel like they have more purpose than mere vibe. They even seem to fit a verse/chorus/verse pattern, which with other bands might feel typical or rote but with these guys its downright refreshing.
The finale arrives with what sounds like the train sound that starts David Bowie’s “Station To Station,” but where Bowie uses this sound as a signal of transition, My Bloody Valentine create a whole song with this chugging sound as the undercurrent. Vocals swirl around with guitars in what feels like a hypnotic vortex. If you close your eyes you can see the band performing this from the eye of a hurricane. At around the 3:30 mark, the guitars crescendo, adding a feedback-drenched loop on top of the pre-existing chaos. While it might sound like things would be flying off the rails at this point, coming across as mere noise, the band manages to turn it into an exquisite sound collage. Once over, your ears feel like they’re ringing and you’re left in a stupor wondering what just happened.
It seems like you never get the same experience twice from listening to this album. Over the course of the week it’s been listened to in many different contexts: with headphones in my bedroom, in the car, and walking in the park. In each setting there seems to be different things that stand out about the album. At its heart though, this is an album best enjoyed with a great pair of headphones while curled up somewhere comfy. It may not be a game-changer, but it sees the band playing with different directions while still retaining what made them so distinct and successful in the first place. Is it “22 years in the making” good? No, but nothing is. However, if you enjoy ‘Loveless’ then you owe it to yourself to listen to this one too as it has plenty to offer. Welcome back, My Bloody Valentine. You were missed and we can’t wait for the next release. Just don’t take another 22 years, please?
Written By Jarad Matula
OurVinyl | Senior Writer