Review Summary: A staggering testament to Kevin Shields' unique talent, and the best case scenario of an artist refusing to release their work until it's just right.
2013 is a confusing time to be alive. The future snuck up on us before anyone had time to seriously appreciate how effortless it made our lives, and the only things left to be upset at in the world immediately surrounding us are meaningless. As far as 20-year-olds go, I have a million things to be thankful for, and yet the things that upset me bring out a genuine anger in me. When reviews I’ve written get printed without album art, I don’t just get slightly miffed - I get pissed off. It actually seems like there’s so few legitimate things to be upset about as a 21st-century American that what bothers me most is how deeply affected I am by minute offenses.
Kevin Shields also seems like an angry guy. I don’t think it would be possible to create sounds as towering and destructive as the folks in My Bloody Valentine do without having some sort of deeply aggressive edge. And yet none of the connotations I associate with My Bloody Valentine are angry. Though they’ve certainly earned their volume badges, even the most blistering Valentines songs up until this point have betrayed a clearly sensitive soul lying underneath.
So how does one even begin to approach the 22-years-in-the-making follow up to “Loveless?” “mbv” is an album that deals entirely in extremes, and standing high above all the emotional poles mapped out on the record is Shield’s seething rage at the universe. Of course, there are distinct moments of inspiration and bedroom melancholia explored as well, but there’s an arc to “mbv” that’s perplexing on first listen and on revisits is almost alarmingly grandiose.
The first movement on “mbv” deals mostly with revisiting the My Bloody Valentine we’ve grown to cherish, and surrounding our ears with that sweet bleeding tone Shields has spent his entire life sculpting. “She Found Now” plays like the thumping heart at the center of the “Loveless” track “Sometimes,” all feeling with minimal form. The depth between guitar lines and vocal harmonies is truly the kind of production that justifies the cliché of the Valentines being a headphones band; you can’t just put music like this on in the background.
“Only Tomorrow” kicks down the door like some lost Dinosaur Jr. track back from the dead, but as the anthem grows crunchier with each repetition of its groove, the realization sets in that Kevin Shields really is a one-of-a-kind guitarist. The aesthetic established on “Loveless” has been repeated so many times that even muttering the phrase ‘shoegaze’ evokes more images of teenagers tinkering with guitar effects on Garage Band than those of sentimentally charged punk rockers. But “mbv” crackles and sears in all its analog glory, with Shields’ soaring guitar lines feeling ancient and familiar, yet surprisingly up to date. His smoky songwriting style hasn’t suffered either, as showcased most excellently on early highlight “Who Sees You.” The progression ventures through territories both victorious and mysterious, carried along on those un***withable jet-engine guitars before the unbearably moving guitar solo at the end make the band’s two-decade absence instantly feel like an acceptable price to pay.
As the opening act comes to a jolting halt, “Is This and Yes” welcomes the stranger tone to come for the remainder of the record. Fluctuating between different modes of ambiance, rock and dance music, the middle section of “mbv” is perhaps the most seeped in the album art of any section of the album and also unfortunately the weakest stretch. Musically, “mbv” is largely concerned with repetition and the slight changes in texture that come with each cycling phrase, but compared to the constant one-upmanship of the beginning and ending sections of the album, the middle seems to ride certain ideas just a little past their prime. Still, 14 minutes essentially spent in the Star Haven level of Paper Mario isn’t a bad deal by any means; it’s just not as awe-inspiring as the best moments on this record.
What follows this pleasant interlude, however, is what truly sets apart “mbv” from every other My Bloody Valentine record. The sinister “In Another Way” leaps between fits of violent pursuit that recall the more industrial side of the ’90s and a fractured guitar lick that would make Joey Santiago smile. The final one-two punch of “Nothing Is” and “Wonder 2” build to an impossibly cathartic and terrifying finish, and the line between how much of this album was recorded as is and how much was spliced together in the studio becomes a complete enigma.
It’s this final image that’s left me completely floored by the completely satisfying return of My Bloody Valentine. Thinking about Kevin Shields alone in his studio, slaving night upon night over a record that he surely knew could never meet the expectations built over the course of 22 years, deciding that the only way he could end his album would be with a holocaust of shrieking waves seems like the only way one could really retaliate against such overbearing pressure.
Make no mistake; “mbv” is the most perfect follow-up anyone could’ve asked for from the sacred beast we call My Bloody Valentine. These songs ache with the same melting dolefulness that formed “Isn’t Anything” and “Loveless,” but constantly surprise with ideas and directions no one could have predicted from an artist who’s been as silent as Shields has. It’s a record that requires time but provides visceral rewards and above all speaks to a force that resides within all of us that Shields has finally put into sonic terms. It’s only human nature to feel anger at the world for disappointing you, but it’s only My Bloody Valentine that can turn that anger into pure euphoria.
(Originally written for CU Independent. http://www.cuindependent.com/)