Thursday, February 14, 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: My Bloody Valentine - m b v

You know those weird dreams where you feel like you are free-falling into a terrifying abyss, only to come to a sudden "landing" when you jolt awake in bed?  In a certain way, m b v feels like that moment of weightlessness, only it takes that split second of subconscious panic and stretches it out into 46 minutes of beautiful yet tense submission.   

In 1991, My Bloody Valentine shook the world with Loveless; an album that not only altered the course of indie rock, but brought a new perspective to what music itself could be.  Loveless put a backdrop of sheer noise and distortion to the band's beautiful pop melodies in an absolutely sublime meshing of style and mood, and in the process nearly bankrupt their record label.  In the following decades frontman Kevin Shields would go on to record numerous incarnations of the followup- all of which would be subsequently shelved out of his fear of not living up to the timeless release of Loveless.  That is, until now.

In January, Kevin Shields mentioned during a London concert that the new album will be released in "maybe two or three days"; the type of flaky response that had become typical of one of rock's greatest perfectionists.  This time, however, the promise held true.  On February 2, 2013, the new My Bloody Valentine album was released.  The band's official site crashed immediately, leaving an untold number of fans (including your's truly) staring at error messages for hours on end.  

Such a turbulent release, after two decades of buildup, would be more than enough to cripple any other band.  Of course, in a way that only they could manage, My Bloody Valentine fed off of the hype.  This is an album that was mythical for over two decades before its actual release; it and now that it actually exists, it certainly delivers on its monolithic stature.  Beginning with the artwork, the surreal pink hue of Loveless' cover has given way to ever-darkening shades of blue for m b v.  After being wrapped up in the warmth and surreal comfort of loveless we find ourselves in confrontation of the other side of the spectrum.  Subtle as it may be, it is an effective first-impression to the album.  This is not the smothering euphoria we all fell head-over-heels with in '91.  This is the claustrophobic struggle of a genius haunted by his own legacy.  While Loveless wrapped us in a blanket of bliss that felt as natural as breathing, m b v challenges us to find it within ourselves to embrace the free-fall.  

This is definitely an album that picks up momentum as it goes.  The first half or so operates on relatively the same plain that Loveless did over two decades ago.  This is by no means a negative though; Loveless was far ahead of it's time, and frankly, I think it could come out today and the world still wouldn't be ready for it.  m b v begins with a wall of sound fading in in as if the old machine is warming up to pick up right where it left off.  Upon reaching operating temperature, the band continues in a warm, comfortingly familiar drone for the duration of opener she found nowonly Tomorrow to me, was an early classic upon first listen.  In Bilinda's first appearance she coos sleepily, just as we remember her and hear her in our dreams (or is that just me?).  Meanwhile, the guitars smolder and swirl, but show hints of welcomed modernization with crunchy, start/stop dynamics.  

As the album nears its midpoint, any concern of it simply being rehash gets debunked in the best possible way.  The most assertive change on display is the prominence of the rhythm section.  The drums and bass really make themselves known this time around, especially on new you, which thumps and pulsates behind echoing guitars like a hazy dance song.  Fittingly, this is the point where things early kick into high gear for m b vin Another way opens with an alien-sounding burst of manipulated feedback, which jolts into a grinding, uptempo guitar groove.  Bilinda even puts a twist on her signature vocal style, singing with a more staccato, articulate approach that hadn't been seen since the band's early EPs.  For much of the song the guitars stutter and screech with controlled feedback, but it is much faster and more upbeat than what we have come to know.  During the bridge sections there is a ringing drone that sounds like bagpipes.  By the time you get used to all of it, the song segues into nothing is.  For the following three and a half minutes  the noise machine chugs along, building and building tension like some sort of psychedelic snowball.  In true My Bloody Valentine fashion however, the payoff never comes.  Instead you immersed in this turbulent sea of noise and perpetual sonic momentum.  Just when it becomes unbearable, the album drops you back into the abyss with wonder 2.  As the hazy phantom melodies, wall of noise, flanging drums, and overall comforting chaos disappears into flowing waves of feedback, you find yourself in a disorienting yet incredibly satisfying state of sedation.  The final deafening silence leaves you to reflect on the experience, and to realize that it was everything you could hope for in a My Bloody Valentine album.  

For 22 years it seemed impossible, but m b v has proven itself to be a worthy followup to Loveless, and addition to the sublime discography of My Bloody Valentine.  Whether m b v will reach the legendary status of its predecessor is something that only time will tell.  As it stands though, it is an incredibly satisfying outing from one of indie rock's greatest bands.  

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