My Bloody Valentine
Bryan Mack, February 26, 2013
Listen: “She Found Now”
ere at Tactile Tracks, us reviewers select albums we’re interested in reviewing before they’re released. We just ask our faithful editor, Jeff, if we can have an album, and then it’s ours to review when it’s released. When I asked to review the new My Bloody Valentine album, I did so with more than a little trepidation. It hadn’t been titled, we hadn’t heard any songs from it, seen a track list, album art, a new website or anything except a scant few tour dates to suggest that the twenty-one year wait for the follow-up to the behemoth that is Loveless would ever actually arrive. I know that I shared my complete, child-at-Christmas-like glee when word leaked out that the website was live and we could, theoretically, buy the album right away. The last time a surprise album hit me with such force, Radiohead gave us In Rainbows and I stayed up until three in the morning to listen to it the first time. However, that album didn’t have two decades of anticipation piled on it. To say I was concerned as I watched the megabytes tick off on the download is an understatement: I frankly doubted Kevin Shields could do anything but fail with such a long gestation period.
He proved me wrong. I knew it the second my headphones let loose the warm, thickly distorted guitars of “She Found Now.” I’ve listened to Loveless hundreds of times since I first picked it up back in 1997 as a nerdy Sixth grader who read too much Spin. I’ve listened to tons of bands who are described as My Bloody Valentine-ish. Groups like Autolux even made me think that I had found a decent surrogate, but as soon as “She Found Now” started I knew I was wrong. Kevin Shields so fully understands and embodies his sound that just a rolling tone and a softly sung vocal both rocked me back to those younger days and grounded the band in the present. That the first track would have fit in the middle of Loveless, seamlessly, is reassuring. “That Only Tomorrow,” while sonically similar to their past work, would not fit on their previous releases, is exciting. The drums sound more live, there is more separation between the instruments, the song almost bounces with joyous peppiness, and at the end the guitar soars out to meet those at the back of the crowd, hiding from the sonic onslaught. It’s gorgeous. “Who Sees You” finishes off the introductory third of the album with a track that likewise blends this new clarity with Loveless’ thick and heady guitar tones and cooed vocals.
The second third of the album dips into more placid, almost ambient-pop territory. “Is This and Yes” may be the only My Bloody Valentine song to date with no discernible guitar sounds. Over a sparkling synth wash and a deeply buried bass drum thump Bilinda Butcher releases slow, crawling syllables as if they’re melting from within her. The whole track sounds like ice melt in the springtime sun. If I Am has funky drums and more of those warmed ice synths, here joined by a panned guitar and more clean tones than you’d ever expect out of Shields. New You suggests electronic music (circa mid-’90s raves) in the throbbing bass-line and phased guitar parts. It feels like it should be a rager, but instead it bounces and coos to sweet effect.
And then the final third of the record roars the way the band has only fully captured, previously, in their live shows. “You Made Me Realize” is clangorous, but the stretch from “In Another Way” to “Wonder 2” encapsulates the joyously crushing extremism of the band’s live sets. “In Another Way’s” drums pound and shift like a bastard Aphex Twin track and the guitars start like a jet taking off. The only fair comparisons for this track in their catalog would be “You Made Me Realize” or “Only Shallow”-catchy, but with an air of violence and danger. They follow it with “Nothing Is,” the most bizarre and atypical piece on the album, and possibly my favorite. Essentially, it is three minutes of a single charging, fuzzed-to-hell guitar riff and pounding drums getting more and more intense before they suddenly switch off. It’s a trick that few bands outside of Boredoms could successfully accomplish, and My Bloody Valentine does it with glee. That they can top that sonic assault with the closing track, “Wonder 2,” is astounding. A heavily flanged something or other fills every possible space (seriously, play it in your car loud and you’ll see what I mean) and wooshes through your head as jangling, metallic guitars and synths back Shields’ vocals. The drums are buried yet frantic, the keys fight for space, and everything is claustrophobic and loud. It’s a spectacular ending.
So they did it. It’s not the massive step forward that Loveless was, but expecting that would only lead to disappointment. Instead, they made an album that could only be labeled My Bloody Valentine. And, by the end of it, they point to the possibility of expanding the sound and reaching for new venues of exploration. Here’s hoping we hear these next steps sometime in the next generation.