Album Review: My Bloody Valentine – m b v

[Self Released; 2013]

It was all but chiseled in stone that Loveless was My Bloody Valentine’s final word, its epitaph. Even when Kevin Shields announced that a new album would be out in “two or three days,” a hefty portion of the group’s fans refused to believe it. This was not because they didn’t desire new My Bloody Valentine music, but rather because they’d been let down so many times before. That Shields and company actually managed to complete the recording process is itself a minor miracle.

Consequently, it’s only natural to come to m b v consumed with questions. How does anyone successfully follow-up an album like Loveless after a 21 year hiatus? Is the proper approach to continue down the path of guitar mutation, or would such an attempt sound stale in 2013? If the latter, how do you chart a new direction after a two decade’s long absence? My Bloody Valentine sidesteps this potential miasma with surprising ease. By breaking down the album into three neat sections–each with its own thematic crux–the band provides itself the opportunity to propel farther into the wild blue yonder while still touching upon the six-string frankensounds that defined their most famous work.

The opening section, which showcases Shields exorcising unnatural noises from his instruments, will sound most familiar to My Bloody Valentine aficionados. Guitars are warped and stacked upon one another, creating ethereal blades of sound. While these distortions fall short of creating the of another world effect of Loveless, there is still an element of irreality to them, like a series of semi-lucid dreams. The main riff on “Who Sees You” simulates an accelerating virtual racecar periodically juxtaposed against more traditional guitar sounds. The more stoic “She Found Now” is a tip of the hat to “Sometimes” with both sharing gargled guitars and melodies carried primarily by the vocals. Each track treads its own dimensional plane, and sounds fresh as a result. “Only Tomorrow” is the lone song in this section that too often feels like a rehashing of old tricks.

While Shields has always been able to write in pop song structures, his songs have rarely come out the other end as such. His method of countless distillations and permutations can have the unwanted side effect of covering up hooks. The middle section of m b v curtails this process. By My Bloody Valentine standards, there are few layers to peel on these tracks. This is best exemplified by “New You,” a pure pop song with only ornamental distortion framing it. It’s interesting that these songs, all fairly saccharine, were sandwiched between the more complex and edgy groupings of tracks. It proves to be a smart decision as they very cleverly setup the wilder back section.

The music that makes up the final third of m b v can collectively be describes as manic. “In Another Way” starts off like 80s Prince before cutting to an aerial soundscape. This then drops off into a war march before taking off once again. The even more batshit “Wonder 2” too feels like it soars among the birds, with blasts of wind roaring over the top of the vocals. This pace and style is unique among My Bloody Valentine music, and can fairly be viewed as new territory for the group. The one misstep present is “Nothing Is” which is simply Shields finding a singular groove and sticking with it for three and a half minutes. It fits the section thematically, but it doesn’t grow into anything and serves no discernible purpose. While it could be weaponized as part of My Bloody Valentine’s live show, it’s the only skip-worthy track on m b v.

While these three sections all present their own distinct flavor, they do flow logically into one another. There’s a build-up and destruction that segues from one part to the next. “Who Sees You” scorches the earth while “Is This And Yes” sounds like the ozone-stripped aftermath. Similarly, “New You” creates spring bloom, which is similarly interrupted by the air raid sirens of “In Another Way.” This dichotomy so accurately replicates the world of the band itself, which has attempted to create this album so many times and had it go down in flames. As such, m b v unintentional tells the story of the My Bloody Valentine itself, complete with the group’s wistful grandeur, brutal aggression, implosion, and triumphant rebirth.

Small complaints aside, m b v avoids the largest pitfall of a comeback album: sounding overcooked. It cannot be overstated just how remarkable that accomplishment is given how many countless times My Bloody Valentine have attempted and revised this album. In a time when indie comebacks are a dime a dozen, m b v is the proverbial unicorn. A fully conceptualized 45 minutes of music that both logically progresses the triumphs of its predecessor and doesn’t feel out of place in the musical landscape of 2013. Whether approached with the utmost skepticism or the most fervent zeal, m b v proves itself not merely a reputable album, but a spectacular and unforgettable experience.