Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Bloody Valentine - m b v

My Bloody Valentine - mbv

Maybe I'm showing my age, but when I ordered the CD of m b v and downloaded the accompanying digital copy in less time than it takes to listen to it, it still didn't feel as if I was really looking at a new My Bloody Valentine album. I mean here it is on a medium that didn't exist when Loveless came out, obtained by means that didn't exist as we know it. When Loveless was new, CDs had just snatched the market share from cassettes. To put it in terms of the musical landscape, it was a time when Kurt Cobain was alive and Justin Bieber wasn't.

The band's fans have a couple of legitimate fears regarding m b v - fears which, if they share my opinion, they can put to rest. Firstly, m b v isn't a retread of Loveless (or Isn't Anything or any other My Bloody Valentine release for that matter). It's a product of the same band mining the same ground, but it's not the same album. To call it so just because it trades in sheets of fuzz and buried vocals would be like saying Rain Dogs is the same as Swordfishtrombones because they both have growling and marimba. One fortunate similarity is the preservation of dynamics in the mastering.  Secondly, well, I'll just come out and say it: the album is damn good. No, probably not Loveless good, but damn good. Welcome back, it's been too long. There's beer in the fridge, help yourself.

m b v eases listeners into the idea of a new My Bloody Valentine album over the course of its first third. On the opener "She Found Now", the waves of distortion and a clean, tonally unambiguous guitar are both at the forefront as the drums, though barely audible, punctuate the tidal effect of the distortion. "Only Tomorrow", a likely single, reminds us that the wait has been even longer for an album featuring Colm Ó Cíosóig as a full time participant. Ó Cíosóig's drums are mixed to various levels throughout the album; they're pretty quiet on this one, yet they drive the song, which in this case is an upbeat number that reminds you that My Bloody Valentine can engage you physically as well as mentally. It also ups the stakes sonically, as a distorted lead guitar emulates brass. "Who Sees You" guides the listener further out into m b v 's strange world while sounding familiar thanks to Kevin Shields' whammy bar shenanigans.

While Shields is necessarily all over this album, it's far more of a band effort than Loveless, and the next three tracks serve as a welcome back to Bilinda Butcher, who sings on all three. It's a pretty gentle trio of tracks; all three emphasise Butcher's vocals and some interesting modulation effects over distortion and feedback, and the last one is built on tremolo'd guitar, a danceable beat and some of Debbie Googe's most audible bass work.

The last three tracks cease the hand-holding completely. Vocals are almost entirely absent ("Nothing Is" is completely instrumental) and all three tracks are rambunctious numbers driven by whims and, like most of the album's best material, the drums. The album ends with a "jet plane" flange sound, and if that signifies the end of a journey, it's one that gets less familiar as it goes while at the same time making it increasingly clear why the band still thought it was worth taking us after all this time.

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