utorak, 5. veljače 2013.

My Bloody Valentine - m b v (2013)

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My Bloody Valentine: m b v - listen now to the full album 

In one sense, the arrival of My Bloody Valentine's m b v was – to use a word no one had heard of the last time the quartet released an album – an omnishambles. A follow-up to 1991's Loveless was supposed to appear at the end of last year; instead, nothing happened bar an announcement that the album was complete. Nine days ago, in response to a fan's shouted query at a gig, Kevin Shields muttered noncommittally that it "might be out in two or three days".
By the end of last week, with a website called isthenewmybloodyvalentinealbumoutyet.com still displaying nothing but the word NO, the mood among even the band's diehard fans had turned distinctly sour. On the band's Facebook page, people were talking angrily about not buying the album even if it did come out. One posted a photograph of Shields with the words DON'T BELIEVE HIS LIES written across it. An aggrieved Chilean called him "terrible", adding something in Spanish that when translated, alas, proved to be enormously derogatory about Shields's mother.
Then, when the album finally did appear to download, just before midnight on Saturday, the band's redesigned website immediately and repeatedly crashed, or refused to accept payment, causing an enterprising person in Indiana to try to involve the US president himself. "The My Bloody Valentine website isn't working and there's a new record on it," read a petition filed on the White House website. "We the people hereby petition the Obama administration to make it work again."
In another sense, however, this was just a very My Bloody Valentine kind of album launch. For one thing, it isn't really a My Bloody Valentine album unless someone has been driven to the brink of insanity by Shields's whimsical attitude to deadlines.
Last time, it was Alan McGee, boss of their former record label, Creation, who was reduced to ringing Shields in tears to ask when Loveless would be finished. This time, Shields appeared to have done the same thing to what may be the most patient and optimistic fanbase in history.
For another, My Bloody Valentine have always moved in ways that weren't so much mysterious as inexplicable. If it's hard to account for the sheer length of time m b v has apparently taken to complete, then it was equally hard to account for the band's transformation from middling indie artists to arguably the most original and influential guitar band of their era, which seemed to happen overnight in 1988 with You Made Me Realise, a single that bore virtually no relation to anything they had previously released.
There are YouTube videos and websites devoted to trying to work out how Shields achieved the sounds he did on My Bloody Valentine's records. But if they had succeeded in their aim, someone else would sound like My Bloody Valentine. And, despite the plethora of artists audibly influenced by them, no one does.
That much is underlined by m b v. At least half the album is in a style roughly similar to Loveless: vocals half-buried beneath a mesh of guitars and samples so dense as to be unfathomable. Some of the sounds feel familiar, not least the woozy effect achieved by strumming the guitar while holding on to the tremolo arm so the notes sway unsteadily in and out of tune. Its constant presence is one of the reasons even a song as luscious, lethargically paced and replete with softly cooing vocals as She Found Now never feels relaxing or cosseting: it has a sickly, disconcerting quality, like a kind of aural equivalent of the way you feel just before you faint.
Others are so hard to describe it's as if Shields is intent on adding critics to the ever-expanding list of people he has driven to tearful despair. Midway through if i am, something briefly starts mirroring Bilinda Butcher's vocal before vanishing entirely. It's an echoing noise somewhere between a drop of water, the "purr" sound on an Apple Mac and the ping of a sonar radar. Quite what it is or why it's there remains a mystery, but the effect is oddly unsettling. It left at least one critic hitting rewind to check he hadn't imagined it.
Some people would claim another album that sounds like Loveless would be an achievement in itself: after all, no one else has managed it and it's not for want of trying. But it's not really the whole story of m b v. Some of the shifts between the two albums are subtle, and have less to do with the sound than with Shields's songwriting, a facet of My Bloody Valentine that understandably tends to get overlooked in the rush to talk about his unique abilities as a producer or the punishing volume at which the band play live. Indeed, there are moments in the past when Shields may have overlooked it himself: if you wanted to criticise Loveless, you could suggest that the songs were perhaps a little less interesting and a little more formulaic than those on its predecessor, 1988's Isn't Anything.
The songs on m b v, however, are more melodically complex, intriguing and often pleasing than anything he has written before. The tunes and chord progressions keep slipping their moorings and heading down unexpected paths. There's occasionally something oddly jazzy about m b v, as evidenced by the shifting time signature of Only Tomorrow, which leaves the song sounding as if gasping for breath; and the song Is This and Yes boldly strips away all Shields's trademark sonic mayhem, leaving behind only Butcher's voice and an organ playing a strange and gorgeous chord sequence.
It's not m b v's only unexpected moment. In their heyday, My Bloody Valentine's releases almost invariably carried a hint of WTF? as if with each one Shields was trying to emphasise the distance between him and his imitators by heading into uncharted territory. It reached a kind of pinnacle with Loveless, which effectively killed the MBV-inspired shoegazing movement dead: it was as if, on hearing it, all the bands involved just shruggingly gave up the chase and either vanished or tried something different.
There's something of that about m b v's final three tracks, all three of which are unlike anything My Bloody Valentine have released before. Set to a distorted breakbeat, the sound constantly shifts and changes: it's simultaneously hugely disorientating and hugely exciting. The instrumental nothing is offers a frantic, hypnotic loop of guitars and drums.
The closing Wonder 2, meanwhile, is flatly astonishing. Most attempts to meld drum'n'bass with rock are almost unimaginably awful: ungainly, clodhopping attempts to squeeze guitars somewhere amid the genre's rhythmic clutter. But Wonder 2 sounds incredible, like the sonic counterpart of a dust storm, with Shields's vocal – another beautiful melody – drifting pacifically through it. It instils a kind of pleasurably baffled awe: how did someone arrive at the conclusion that a song should sound like this? Then again, as was established long ago, with My Bloody Valentine, inexplicability is very much part of the deal. - Alexis Petridis

"When can we hear some new material?," someone asked Kevin Shields in an AOL chat interview published by the San Francisco zine Cool Beans!. "Definitely sometime this year or I'm dead..." he answered, later driving the point home with, "I really am dead if I don't get my record out this year. Nobody's threatening me, BTW I just have to."
That chat took place exactly 16 years ago tomorrow and Kevin Shields is still alive. And now, almost 22 years after My Bloody Valentine's last album, Loveless, we finally have that record. For those of us whose relationship to music and maybe even the act of hearing has been changed by Loveless, it's hard to believe. I'd grown comfortable with the idea that there would never be another My Bloody Valentine album. Even as recently as two months ago, I figured it would never happen. "But he said it was mastered," people said to me. The last time a master of an MBV album was completed it took four years for it to come out. And that was music that had already been released. An alleged master of a new release? Plenty of time to pull the plug. But no, it happened, by surprise, last Saturday night. And many 403 errors later, we finally have this thing on our hard drives. mbv. 2013. This Is Our Bloody Valentine. 
Like a few people I know, I was initially afraid to listen, but there was no need to be. My Bloody Valentine have taken the precise toolkit of Loveless-- layered Fender Jaguar guitars made woozy through pedals and tremolo, hushed androgynous vocals way down in the mix-- and made another album with it, one that is stranger and darker and even harder to pin down. Where Loveless felt effortless, mbv strains, pushing at its boundaries with a sense of pensive gloom. If the guy spending all those years in the studio felt trapped by the experience, like the walls might be closing in and that he was dead if he didn't finish, the music here reflects it. mbv is an album of density with very little air or light. But it doesn't forgo the human touches that have made this band so special.
The nine-song mbv can be divided into thirds and the first three-song section, consisting of "She Found Now", "Only Tomorrow", and "Who Sees You", finds Shields exploring the untapped textural possibilities of the guitar. The last several years have been bad ones for the instrument. In independent music circles, the guitar has become synonymous with regression, a symbol used to evoke something from the past. And that might seem at first equally true here, since the tone of Shields' guitar is so clearly connected to the sounds he pioneered two decades ago. But no one believes more deeply than Kevin Shields in the expressive power of the processed guitar, and the music here turns out to be more about feeling than style. 
"She Found Now" is an opener of daring subtlety, a ballad in the vein of "Sometimes" that consists mostly of deep strumming and Shields' singing in a tone near a whisper. There's a bit of percussion, a few more layers of distortion, but no announcement of anything earth-shattering or even particularly different. It's My Bloody Valentine making the kind of noises they invented and perfected. As the chords cycle through in the following "Only Tomorrow", Shields sets up a situation where the repetition and familiarity lulls you into a kind of trance and small gestures hit with great force. On "Only Tomorrow" that spine-tingling moment is a dead simple screeching high-end refrain that repeats toward the end, while on the following "Who Sees You", it's a section halfway through where a rush of trebly chords coats the entire song in another layer of textured fuzz. When it comes to Shields and guitars, the small details do a tremendous amount of work. 
The second trio of songs feature the lead vocals of My Bloody Valentine singer/guitarist Bilinda Butcher. The push and pull of her singing next to Shields' is, along with the wavy "glide guitar" effect, My Bloody Valentine's other defining characteristic. Their voices are the essence of the the band's strangely androgynous and non-specific sensuality. "Is This and Yes" is just Butcher's voice and an unusual organ pattern that hangs in space at the end of the progression and never resolves itself; "New You" is the only track on the record that sounds even remotely like a single, and it shows that Shields' melodic impulses have not left him.  
In another sense, "New You" points out how much has changed since MBV last released a full-length. In 1991, they were still a pop band, the kind that made videos and appeared on magazine covers and were on a fashionable record label. As such, there was at least some pressure for them to fit in, for their music to have context in the popular music landscape. So they released singles and probably hoped they'd become hits. Even if "Soon" had, as Brian Eno stated at the time, set a "new standard," that didn't change that fact that it was in fact still pop. But those days are gone. My Bloody Valentine fit in exactly nowhere and the commercial expectations of a release like mbv are minimal. Whatever the cause, mbv is the weirdest album My Bloody Valentine have made by some margin. Some of the record's otherworldly quality is up to frequency range. There's very little on this album in the treble range but there's endless detail in the bass and mid, which makes the record feel more closed in and insular. But some of it is in the arc of the record. 
Through the 1990s Kevin Shields often talked about jungle, what it meant to him, and how some of the ideas behind it were making their way into a new My Bloody Valentine album. He was not alone in this, but mixing drum'n'bass' whooshing walls of percussion with oceanic shoegaze seemed a natural pairing (it was so natural, in fact, that artists like Third Eye Foundation beat Shields to the punch). Whether or not the final three songs on mbv are related to Shields' experiments of that time, on mbv, where Shields presumably had time to make the drum parts he wanted, it's clear that he doesn't really hear percussion the way most of us do. Drums are mostly distant, often muddy, serving as an underpinning or textural contrast to the guitar instead of driving the rhythm on their own. In this sense they mirror the 8-bit snatches of sound caught by crude samplers in the 90s. But since Isn't Anything, drums have been down on the list of concerns for MBV, which is one way the final third is so surprising and ultimately powerful. 
"In Another Way", another Butcher lead, begins to tilt the balance between noise and melodic beauty as the tempo increases, and by the following instrumental "Nothing Is" the mood has changed considerably. A track of heavy bass drums and pounding guitar, it feels militaristic and even a touch grim, with just faint glimmers of beauty inside the barrage. And then by the final "Wonder 2" the album has become something else. This is MBV's version of an album-closing "L.A. Blues"-like Stooges freak-out, where they stop worrying about structure and fill every inch of tape with noise. The heavy flanging evokes choppers buzzing overhead, and somehow, through it all, there are wispy voices, buried and being shoved around by the din. It's a disquieting end. Where Loveless, despite its complexity, sounded as natural as breathing, mbv sounds like the product of great effort, of meticulous work to get every sound in place. And that exertion is especially apparent in the final third, as Shields tries and ultimately succeeds in taking the project somewhere it's never gone. All this work gives mbv its own quality, simultaneously intimate and detached. 
Like its predecessor, mbv feels like an album in part about love, but it approaches the grandest of human emotions from an unusual angle. Kurt Cobain, another iconic songwriter of the 1990s who never got a chance to grow old and figure out how to maintain his creativity in the wake of game-changing masterpieces, had a song called "Aneurysm" and it had a refrain that went, "Love you so much, makes me sick." That's how My Bloody Valentine's deeply destabilizing queasiness, amplified here to a frightening degree, has always struck me: There's a rush of feeling inside their music so intense it creates a kind of paralysis. Music swirls and moves in and out of phase, voices float by, half memory and half anticipation, and you're never quite sure how all the parts fit together. You get lost in it, and if you're wired a certain way that mixture of desire and confusion is easy to map on to the wider world. For 22 years, the only way to get there was through Loveless and its associated EPs; now there's another path, one many of us never expected to find. That it's this successful in spite of it all is something we never had a right to expect. - Mark Richardson

Loveless is my favorite album. It has been for 13 years. I was 11 when it was released, but at the time I wasn’t aware of its existence. My friends and I were too busy skateboarding, playing Sonic the Hedgehog, and trading taped cassette copies of Nevermind in 1991. I first read about Loveless a couple years later in a magazine (Guitar World I think), as the album was included in an article about “textural” guitar bands such as The Cure, Curve, Slowdive, and Ride, all of whom were strung together by a writer attempting to establish a precedent for the then cultural juggernaut known as Siamese Dream. I didn’t actually listen to Loveless until sometime between then and 2000, the year I finally purchased copy. But, like other personal anecdotes surrounding My Bloody Valentine and the band’s new album m b v, the details of my story are inconsequential when placed in a wider context. Whether explicit or implied, these anecdotes make one thing clear: when we are reflecting on m b v — an album released 22 years after Loveless — we are essentially reflecting on ourselves.
It’s no wonder, too. My Bloody Valentine’s music has always been surprisingly vague, and it’s precisely this lack of a specific or projected identity that enables fans to so easily engage on subjective levels, to use their music like a mirror. However, the band’s own identity is writ large, not through sentiment or ideology, but through the employment of one specific pioneering technique: Kevin Shields’ self-termed “glide guitar.” Glide guitar, for those not familiar with the term, is the act of playing a guitar with a tremolo arm in such a manner that the arm is being slightly pressed down and subsequently released at intervals consistent with the player’s strumming pattern; this produces irregular, bending notes that sound not unlike tape warping. Oddly enough, when we begin to discuss the term shoegaze and its connotations, glide guitar rarely comes up. There’s always talk of submerged vocals and walls of guitar and reverb, both of which MBV’s contemporaries and immediate descendants (Slowdive, Ride, Lush, Chapterhouse) had in spades, but few actually employed the one thing that would have immediately placed MBV as their direct influence (Swervedriver’s “Rave Down” being a notable exception). Not so in modern shoegaze groups. Glide guitar (or at least the invocation of it) can be found on records by Young Prisms, Fleeting Joys, Pia Fraus, Serena-Maneesh, and A Place to Bury Strangers, to name only a few. This technique is to shoegaze what tremolo picking is to black metal what the bass drop is to dubstep: an immediate identifier.
The first song from m b v, “She Found Now,” employs this tactic to great effect, even if it’s an unceremonious return, an aesthetic announcement from the band saying “we’re here” rather than the all-caps, 20-exclamation-points punch of Loveless opener “Only Shallow.” It’s not until past the halfway point in m b v, beyond the Stereolab-indebted “Is This and Yes,” when we hear what could be called a progression in sound, albeit one still augmented by that familiar technique. The album’s second act starts out strong with “If I Am,” a song where the guitars move more like the shaking of tambourines and have been doused with a disorienting mix of what sounds like a wah-wah pedal (but probably isn’t; Shields achieved a similar sound on “I Only Said” by running the guitar through a preamp with a graphic equalizer, then bouncing the track through a parametric equalizer while making manual adjustments). It has one of the slightest-sounding passages that could ever pass for a solo: a few clear bell or sine wave-like tones that appear for a few seconds mid song, bend, and then disappear, followed by the introduction of a shimmering tremolo effect. Other tracks worthy of note are the throbbing “New You,” which listeners will recognize as the song performed the night Shields had promised a new album, and “In Another Way,” whose doubling effect and ramped-up glide guitar is reminiscent of Loveless’ “Soon,” with Shields using a staccato downstrum in sharp bursts to throw the keyboard melody into relief during segues.
And finally, we come to closer “Wonder 2,” the absolute high point of m b v. If there is any track from this album that suggests a way forward for My Bloody Valentine, it is this one. The rhythmic aspect of it could certainly be attributed to Shields’ interest in drum ‘n’ bass music, but the whooshing guitar sounds are of another world entirely. It is, in my estimation, one of the most psychedelic pieces of music My Bloody Valentine have committed to tape, the direct descendant of “To Here Knows When.” I’m not sure glide guitar plays a part in this at all, Shields’ guitar having more in common with cycling fog horn blasts emerging from a thick fog — here’s a tone in the right speaker, now louder in the left with more dissonance, gradually expanding and contracting while never losing sight of the melodic backbone, trailing off, finally, into nothingness. - Joe Davenport

That m b v was released without an actual studio track leak is unprecedented for an album 22 years in the making, especially considering that many of these recordings were starting to become realized in the first era of widespread file-sharing. But then again, the album didn’t take 22 years to make, even by Shields’ own admission. If we look at the timeline laid out by Shields in pretty much all of the interviews from the 1990s through now, it’s clear that the album was mostly recorded in the 90s (75%, according to the man himself) and finished post-2007. In other words, the final product we’re hearing now is far more likely the result of about 10 years worth of work, which itself assumes that it was being worked on the entire 10 years. But does the truth matter when the myth of a 22-year gestation period is the kind of thing rock legends are built on? And what is the legacy of My Bloody Valentine post-Loveless if not legend?

Perhaps, then, the act itself of listening to the album is the most important result of m b v’s release. Simply put: I would rather listen to this album than anything else I’ve heard in 2013 so far and am confident the feeling will continue through the rest of this year, whether or not “better” albums come along. My desire to continually reevaluate this music has led to a series of playthroughs wherein my own interpretation of the album’s merit has been dynamically inconsistent. It’s obviously well-crafted and well-executed, but does that matter when only a few songs sound as if they move beyond the group’s core sonic palette? Is it even fair to expect a world of difference from m b v? Isn’t it enough that My Bloody Valentine have retained a sonic identity to claim as their own, especially in the face of genres like chillwave, hypnagogic pop, and vaporwave, which are obviously caught up in constructing a music trading in nostalgia for the decades that birthed and allowed this band to develop? Whether or not the album is judged favorably or unfavorably, the fact that there’s still value in My Bloody Valentine’s aesthetic in the face of free Bandcamp downloads, Soundcloud streams, and Tumblr feeds is worthy of note. And it certainly speaks volumes that the group could reemerge in this climate and prove that no one is capable of exactly replicating what they do. It is our own expectations — either for something entirely alien or for something that reinforces their canonized aesthetic — that we confront when listening to m b v, and the act itself of listening to the album is part of this negotiation process.

There’s an economic tool called discounted utility, which allows for these exact inconsistencies regarding intertemporal choice: by making ourselves aware of the possibility that our own future valuations of something may be lessened, we can account for them in its current valuation. To that end, I can freely admit that I like this record right now, but in the future, I may not. But is taste even relevant in the case of a cultural artifact so long in gestation that its mere appearance catalyzed much of the internet’s music critics into questionably premature evaluations? The worst outcome for m b v would be if it were perpetually caught up in the myopic frame of the present, if the discussion doesn’t evolve beyond there being only two reactions a person can have when hearing it — apathy turning into disdain or starry-eyed worship. I honestly feel a little of both, and I’m not sad or troubled by that at all.

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