February 6, 2013

Test Spins: My Bloody Valentine, m b v

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The new My Bloody Valentine album is here, but it came at a cost to facetious music lovers. No longer can I say that I’ve waited for this album my entire life (Loveless came out in 1991), and, more importantly, m b v is no longer in the same league as The Avalanches’ LP2, Daft Punk’s LP4, The Wrens’ LP4 and other mythical records that have not seen the light of day. As its reputation developed in its 21-year lull, My Bloody Valentine grew a huge presence without even asking for it. Kevin Shields, mastermind of the band and a notorious perfectionist, was content with creating and shelving several albums worth of material in that time because it “hadn’t got that spirit, that life in it.” He hired and fired so many producers making Loveless that he nearly bankrupted Creation Records producing it. When it came to pleasing people, his fans’ desires were a distant second to his own.

It’s unsurprising, then, that m b v’s release was handled poorly. For a band that gathered 200K+ likes on its Facebook page without much engagement and 17K+ likes on a status about merely mastering a record, it is mind-boggling that the band didn’t expect the website to crash in three minutes when its new album came out. Fans were hysterical. A pranker, claiming to be Shields, uploaded something that turned out to be a Japanese pop song with a hair dryer blowing in the background. Someone created a petition on WhiteHouse.gov asking for the website to come back online. Because it was released a day before the Super Bowl, jokes that m b v was a collection of Beyoncé covers spread. Anything in those anguishing hours seemed plausible.

The hype surrounding m b v’s release seems unrelated, but it does emphasize how the band has been in its own little bubble while the world moved on to new genres. m b v is not a revolution or even an evolution; it is a re-visitation of the band’s roots, motivated by nostalgia, but with the awareness that there is no true return after something as monumental as Loveless. The album is more like a melding of its debut Isn’t Anything and follow-up Loveless: Shields doesn’t do anything drastically new (and thankfully no Beyoncé covers). But in stirring its own juices, the band sticks to the unique sound that bred an entire genre of mimics (Slowdive, Teenage Fanclub) and deviations that never quite captured their hazy glint.

Loveless’ sound may have been difficult to replicate because of its fluid notions of gender. As music critic Simon Reynolds wrote, Shields “oscillates between dulcet-voiced androgyne and technology-obsessed boffin, a scientist probing the outer limits of sound.” In m b v, those notions have coalesced. This isn’t bad, per se, but feels like a metamorphosis without purpose.

Opener “She Found Now” is classic ethereal Valentine, but there is something about the bright guitars and the slow chugging build-up that makes this a love song from a decidedly masculine perspective. Bilinda Butcher takes over the vocals in “New You” over an upbeat fizzy synth, creating what sounds like the band’s take on bubblegum girl pop. getting older.

The second half of the album has a very heavy drum and bass influence with mixed results. “In Another Way” is the closest to gender-melding as it gets in this album, but the vocals and beat are more like separate halves, with the rawness of the drums quickly overpowering Butcher’s more delicate vocals. “Nothing Is” is an awkward mishmash of carnival tunes, reinterpreted into noise rock with a dancey kick drum beat. But the last track “Wonder 2” is where m b v really works. It ventures into new territory for the band while staying heavily atmospheric, stripping out the lush guitars and leaving  behind something more industrial. If Loveless is like humid warm air, this song is dry and cold.

Even with the hints of a new direction, however, a nagging realization remains: The initial rush of the record, albeit a good record, was not because of high expectations, but because it has been so long in the making. It would’ve sounded the same whether it was released in 1995 or 2013. This raises the question: Why m b v? Why now? Loveless is just as stunning a record as it was 20 years ago, but music has long since moved on. m v b reminds us that the band still has something to say, but doesn’t explain why we should listen.

Original Author: Kai Sam Ng