Hibernation Pays Off for My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine-m b v-Creation Records-5 STARS

Twenty-two years is a long time for anyone to stay dormant. Even before My Bloody Valentine announced “m b v,”—their first album since 1991’s “Loveless,”—2013 seemed to be destined to be the year of the comeback for artists who have long been out of the limelight. But David Bowie has released six albums in the past 22 years. It’s only been seven years since Justin Timberlake’s “FutureSex/LoveSounds.” Entire careers of other shoegazing artists, such as Lush, would have been born and dissolved in the span of 22 years—twice.

My Bloody Valentine’s first album in two decades is and probably will remain the biggest drop of 2013, an already promising year in which Skrillex was featured on an A$AP Rocky track. Perhaps the quietest My Bloody Valentine album yet, “m b v” lacks the teeth of “Isn’t Anything” and fails to match the stunning innovation of “Loveless.” But thanks to the band’s newfound level of intimacy and its inspired style, “m b v” is a universally accessible album that showcases the band’s expertise, even after an extended hiatus.

The opening track, “She Found Now,” defines the sound palette for the rest of the album. As the guitars buzz and frontman Kevin Shields croons soft, indecipherable sounds, My Bloody Valentine immediately establish “m b v” as more intimate than “Loveless.” Instead of making the album seem unadventurous, however, this closeness is welcoming. The familiar blanket of sound knit by “She Found Now” instantly brings with it memories of the murky guitars on “Loveless,” albeit in a more understated manner.

Part of the intimacy of “mbv” comes from the meticulously recorded drum track that was cut first by Jimi Shields, removed, and then redone by their original drummer, Colm Ó Cíosóig. With the exception of the tracks “In Another Way” and “Nothing Is”—which feature brazen drum tracks that share center stage with the usually uncontested sound of guitars—“m b v” explores a wide array of unobtrusive drum tracks, most parts sinking into the blanket of sound rather than providing their own distinct timbres. Even the more upbeat “Who Sees You” uses Cíosóig’s track in a textural way, the repetitive beat eventually becoming the wheels on which the song churns forth.

The finest example of this understated sound comes in the minimalistic and daring “Is This and Yes,” a meditative amalgam of ringing synthesizers and seemingly wordless vocals. The track sounds almost like a tone poem in that the interest lies in the transition between one tonal quality to the next rather than in the details of any particular instrumental or vocal tracks. As the fourth track on the album, “Is This and Yes” comes a little too soon to feel like a truly introspective oasis within the framework of “m b v,” but it still makes its point: My Bloody Valentine are no longer defining shoegazing—they’re exploring it.

Although “m b v” is deeply personal, it also stands as a much bigger album than the sum of its parts, thanks to its experimental nature and its relationship to My Bloody Valentine’s larger discography. It has all the makings of what would have been a classic album had it been released in the 1990s, when much of its development occurred. But today, it is evident that in My Bloody Valentine’s two silent decades, the album has only aged well.

My Bloody Valentine’s “m b v” rounds out their trio of full-length LPs perfectly. “Isn’t Anything” arrived in 1988 with a sound that was explored and tested through “Loveless.” But it is only on “m b v” that My Bloody Valentine really master the shoegazing sound. On this album, Shields proves that he is comfortable enough to take risks with unconventional song structure and compositional choices.  A prime example of this experimentation is the track “Nothing Is,” which features Shields and Cíosóig jamming on a single chord, creating a broken-record effect that tempts listeners to check their discs for imperfections. “Nothing Is”—along with “In Another Way”— rounds out “m b v” with confidence as they carve a new facet of noisy, driving energy into the classically mellow genre of shoegazing.

This daringness contributes a sense of honesty to My Bloody Valentine’s latest album—shoegazing isn’t new anymore, and embracing this revelation seems to have untangled all the reservations in My Bloody Valentine’s sound. “m b v” is the frank work of a master who understands his genre better than anyone. Shoegazing still isn’t a genre for perfection, but by acknowledging this, “m b v” comes closer than ever before.

This new album doesn’t herald a heroic return of classic My Bloody Valentine, nor does it feel like a simple regurgitation of their previous material. Rather, “m b v” provides an immersion into Kevin Shields’s 22 years of silence. The quiet, closed-doors approach of the album makes it seem as though Shields is pointing a satellite dish at these lost decades, picking up the faint echoes and remnants of noise left by “Loveless” and rearranging them in both familiar and innovative patterns. The result is equally personal and remarkable—an album that finally cements My Bloody Valentine’s lasting legacy.

Staff writer Se-Ho b. Kim can be reached at sehokim@college.harvard.edu

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