mbv

I took several stabs at writing about ‘m b v’ and still have a messy draft that I might attach to this once it is reissued in deluxe format in about 20 years but less than a year before I next write anything. This morning I opened my draft to find all the paragraphing deleted including the subtitles. It would happen for this album, wouldn’t it? The initial trouble with ‘m b v’ was other people (“they’re the worst!”) as every time I’d sit down to write about this latest musical event (for event read hype) of the year, someone else had beaten me to it by mentioning Stereolab, Spiritualized, Third Eye Foundation and many more little references. Reviews seemed to quote each other and, when read all at once, seem to blur into a multi-tracked buzz of excited riffing, just like the sound of My Bloody Valentine has always managed to do. There is something about the sound which makes music journalists reach for the thesaurus or even a guide to musical terms as agreed upon by the Melody Maker circa 1991. ‘Relentless helicopters’ was used somewhere and I like that. Just keep it simple but almost nonsensical…almost. After all, who is likely to read a review of this album as they think they might like it? Everyone who owns this album will already be a fan. The hype that has engulfed its release has ensured that anyone feeling a little left out must be totally alienated by the experience by now. Also, good sense would tell a music fan that it might be best to get into the early stuff first. This may be something that My Bloody Valentine now have in common with Bob Dylan and Neil Young among others.

The context is everything for this album. Is it just a matter of tidying up some old tapes that have remained unreleased for a long time? Is this the My Bloody Valentine equivalent, along with the ‘EPs 1988-91’, of Can’s ‘Lost Tapes’? If so, there will be no more to follow. So why announce live dates too? Surely this is then an old album that is finally seeing the light of day just like Dennis Wilson’s ‘Bambu (The Caribou Sessions)’ being tagged on to the excellent ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ reissue of a few years back. Hard for the late Dennis to tour that release, but had he been around, you think he might have as it went straight into the UK top 20 album chart, something the original never managed. However, ‘m b v’ has been released at a price of $16 or 10 pounds rather than simply given to loyal fans who don’t want to shell out cash repeatedly or won’t. Either this is because the material is more important than a bunch of unreleased demos or the shields estate needs a serious cash injection and so ‘Odds and Sods’ MBV-style has been knocked out. No, maybe that was a possibility but surely not so soon after the remasters finally emerged. A third possibility then emerges that this is an album that shows signs of being begun over 20 years ago and really has only just been finished off after initially being discarded. Do we honestly expect a musician to have stepped into a studio 20 years ago, recorded various tracks for a few years that then get abandoned for almost 15 more years and for those recordings to not be similar to anything else that has appeared in the interim? Impossible! This album is a good, no excellent, version of what New Order’s ‘Lost Sirens’ is. It has been released by a band stepping back into the arena rather than one seemingly torn apart by infighting between its two most iconic members. It may reveal weaknesses in terms of some areas sounding a little dated but this should more than adequately balanced off against the nostalgia advantage that the album has. Is nostalgia valid in assessing new music? I would say it is but it can ruin things if allowed to run out of control. Any further MBV release would have to move forwards quite significantly or risk becoming their ‘Be Here Now’.

This then is a new My Bloody Valentine album that will be toured. If it sounds dated or unfinished, we don’t care as we’d rather not wait another 20 years for its completion. The only negative aspect to its appearance would be if it were to destroy a legacy, a mere shadow of the band hastily packaged as a cash cow from recording sessions that cost too much money to go to waste. It is interesting that the ‘Loveless’ sessions and New Order’s ‘Sirens’ sessions both seem to have cost a quarter of a million as did sessions for Keith Moon’s disastrous solo album. Looked at like that, My Bloody Valentine represent value for money. No more preamble…

m b v

Even the lower case letters are a 90s throwback. At least they’re not printed in the lower right corner and followed by an ironic question mark though their position is not far off the former. Even the album title has an ambiguity of either being tossed off demos without a proper name, or is it the definitive self-titled album that isn’t a debut? Did ‘blur’ get there first?

‘she found now’
Begins with a gentle drum and everything’s soft, fuzzy and warm with it due to the characteristic effects of a womblike pulsing. Womblike pulsing? Why do MBV always have this effect on writing? This really is a simple opener which breaks no new ground except for being the first track on an album which people have waited 20 years to hear. It would fit well on the ‘Tremolo’ EP. The wash of warm fuzz acts as a portal into the world of the album. Background sound around the room, nearby traffic or a television across the way are now merged rather than drowned out, one might say they’ve been caught by the fuzz. Either way, attention is focused on the album as there is no other option. So many peers and alternatives to MBV have long become background music rather than dominating the actual background so effortlessly. Maybe that is a strength to the group that I have only just realised. So there we have a new album opening up something new in what we hear of a known band. This is no unreleased demo then.

‘only tomorrow’
Wonderful booming drum sound! Vocals and bassline surround them to create something slightly more forward-looking in approach, beyond ‘Loveless’. A wonderful, lazily discordant riff saws through everything else in a way that reminds me of Moonshake’s first EP…which, ironically, predates ‘Loveless’. So the overall feel has returned to Shoegaze ’91. There is no real progression just a development of the existing mbv stock sound. A simplistic beginners guitar solo adds another memorable track over the top of the familiar perhaps helping to disguise the lack of anything truly original. However, that guitar does serve to make the song memorable.

‘who sees you’
Now, surely this could be a ‘Loveless’ outtake. Everything about the opening suggests classic MBV. The drum intro leading into the uneasy drone which resolves itself into something familiar with repeated listens. It’s not that it’s bad, but it hardly acts as a memorable addition to what already exists. This could have turned up as a bonus track on the remasters and no-one would have noticed anything out of place. However, how repetitive can a band be if they don’t release anything for 22 years? That’s tha advantage of what used to be the problem with My Bloody Valentine. Expectation may have not been simply for more similar, formulaic material but almost anything would do. After a while of absorbing the fact that this track is not going to rewrite the genre, the listener may become beguiled by all the classic MBV hooks falling into place. It is dreamy and hazy again, like no band since. It does not, as some reviewers may claim, require drugs to be appreciated. Instead, it creates that soporific effect. We can just leave this alone as we’re simply happy that there is more. It would be great if Talk Talk, The Cocteau Twins and The Stone Roses could produce something unreleased that sounds this good but I doubt they can or will. The La’s might have something left in the can but Lee Mavers probably won’t let anyone ever hear it.

‘is this and yes’
Many MBV titles are meaningless but they usually make some kind of sense. An ominous gap may be exclusive to my download so I won’t over-analyse. The gap makes sense if we are to divide the album into thirds. The title may suggest something existed before and after its content – what ‘is this’? What is the question that is answered with ‘yes’? This is the part of the album that sounds most like Stereolab interlude though it is a tad long to be a mere interlude. The title might be explained by the words but I’m not sure there are any. Quite a mysterious little track that doesn’t seem to even feature a guitar as far as I can hear. Whether this sounded like Stereolab as they existed in the mid 90s is unclear, but what is clear is that this track heralds in a new sonic landscape to the MBV canon. Is this progression going to continue in the second third of the album?

‘if i am’
More new sounds. This time a distorted wah-wah that might have allowed this track to fit on to a Kevin Shields solo album around the time of his ‘Lost in Translation’ work. However, for all the joy of a new sound we seem to be developing a line and length approach to the pace of the tracks. This song seems to chug along at much the same pace as ‘only tomorrow’ and ‘who sees you’. Of course Oasis’ debut chugged along at a metronomical pace but there the Britpop links must end. Instead, this sounds like Echo Lake or The History of Apple Pie could have included a version on their recent albums and the original author never be discovered. After a couple of minutes this listener found himself asking ‘is that it?’ It seems it really is it and that I should just let my guard down and enjoy it for all its classic MBV broken walkman stylings. That broken walkman reference has certainly been used before, possibly about ‘Loveless’.

‘new you’
Dated like ‘Soon’ by the time ‘Loveless had appeared? This would be fine as a ‘Lost Tapes’ track but not really on a new album. A kind of MBV-lite go pop. Comparing it to The Farm as I read elsewhere seems to go a bit too far but maybe it is not too cruel to suggest that this lighter track may have paved the way for a Bilinda Butcher solo career had it appeared sooner than 2013. What makes this track irk? The warm fuzz has been reigned in. This would now not seem out of place on the weaker major label Cocteau Twins albums but in a more tidied up form. Might this have sat comfortably next to a less commercial Pulp had it arrived on schedule? It certainly could suit a Jarvis vocal. Now we pause to see if anything emerges on further listens…no, definitely a bit dull. It suggests that they may have had to come up with something that Island might have wanted to release. It fails. It’s saving grace is that it acts as a good counterpoint to all the fuzz. It signs of the predictable section of the album and leads us into the considerably more gory final third.

‘in another way’
Distortion, that familiar Beatlesey drum loop, grinding sounds at the higher end and we’re off. This track feels like another era of the group altogether compared with the first 6 tracks. This and what follows feels like it belongs together with other similarly confrontational material while the rest of the album was almost an attempt to produce something Island could handle. This track has a beautiful chopping rhythm mixed with slightly dated keyboard sounds. This is the beautiful noise that we craved. This instantly puts cynicism at rest. This is what Paul Weller thinks his last album sounds like. It doesn’t. Noel Gallagher will have become instantly jealous of this sound too. Countless shoegazey bands, both past and present (should the present wave be described as Shoegazi?), have tried to capture this sound. Those from the past will be envious while those from the present may now go back to college. Really, what this song does is fairly simple and is not as earth shatteringly profound as these words may suggest it is. However, we can be sure that the emergence of this melody was not simple as it took 20 years to arrive. Still, making the complex sound simple and the simple sound complex is another great trait to My Bloody Valentine that always left mere imitators seeming laboured in comparison.

‘nothing is’
Barring certain moments in ‘You Made Me Realise’ and ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’, this is the most aggressive sound MBV have achieved yet. It’s a shortly held record as they surpass all three in the following track. For now though, this is altogether rather heavy with looped drums and everything else. This brings in the aggression that Loveless kind of lacked when compared with those earlier sounds. This marks MBV out as a band that could have got heavier, darker and closer to American alternative music. It’s a thrash and a highly enjoyable one. As another almost interlude, it seems that more than just a solitary track should follow it. Does the ending we are building to then point a way forward into new material? Could this happen in the not too distant future, maybe in 10 years or so?

‘wonder 2’
Another loop? Are we now under attack? It sounds that way as the “relentless helicopters” song kicks off and maintains its onslaught throughout its full 6 minutes.It feels like everything is speeding up and slowing down simultaneously. Is that possible? Vocals emerge, which rhythm are they supposed to follow for a cue? Well anyone ever work out the lyrics? This  is chaos. This does not sound like Third Eye Foundation, this is more primal. This is wonderful. Beautiful and, yes, relentless. Smooth and choppy like a large washing machine with helicopter blades. What on earth does that even mean? This would blow the listener away on large speakers and will be ferocious live. It already sounds like it needs remastering. Towards the end it gets even louder and the washing machine helicopter thing seems to transform into a plane and disappear over some magical horizon after its highly enjoyable bombardment. This wins back drone attack from the United States airforce in the name of music.

There, done it. Have tried to avoid references to shimmering/cascading cathedrals/towers of sounds. Sorry about the washing machine helicopter thing. I kind of did the summing up in the beginning. Of course it’s excellent, what more do people want? Over to you, Talk Talk and The La’s but best leave it alone reformed Stone Roses.

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