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My Bloody Valentine - m b v

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Artist: My Bloody Valentine

Album: m b v

Label: self-released

Review date: Feb. 5, 2013

My Bloody Valentine - "In Another Way"

Loveless was a unique masterwork from a moment of transition in the history of alternative rock music, understood in the broadest sense. In 1991, when My Bloody Valentine released its magnum opus, the clever, jangly and angular college rock of 1980s was just beginning to transition into the bloated, lumbering, disaffected grunge of the 1990s. The Smiths were finished, R.E.M.’s best days were behind it, and the noisy pop classicism of The Jesus and Mary Chain was about to give way to the aggressive, solipsistic symphonies of minor chord crunch. Just before the historical shift was sealed, Kevin Shields and his band managed to crystallize an otherworldly sound that drew on the best of both worlds: a sonic universe that was simultaneously heavy and breathy, chugging and loopy, abrasive and entrancing, self-enclosed but echoing outward in every direction. Loveless was as beautiful, mysterious and redemptive as any album released in the last decade of the 20th century. It was a moment of perfection that neither its creators nor its young decade would ever surpass.

It would have been unreasonable to expect My Bloody Valentine to follow Loveless with anything close to its level of achievement. But rather than dispense quickly with the inevitable disappointment, Shields in particular drew out his labor, second-guessed himself, and declined to release another studio album for more than two decades. This past weekend, as though the group couldn’t take obsessing any longer, it rushed m b v to its website for fans to access before its 180-gram vinyl and CD releases would be ready to ship. The hastiness of the distribution seems reflected in the appearance of the digital album art: the album title looks to have been plopped via photoshop onto an otherwise thought-through backdrop. The speed of the release was mirrored in the speed of the response. Within days, if not hours, the web was saturated with quickly formed commentaries.

By contrast, m b v itself opens slowly, as if to stand as a metaphor for the long time coming. From the first distorted chugs, strums and sighs of guitar, and the first hushed, echoed vocals, it’s clearly the sound of My Bloody Valentine and no other. Opener “She Found Now” doesn’t climax and scarcely even builds. It simply exists, quietly triumphant for marking the return of a trademark sound. The tracks to follow range from intricately gentle (“If I Am,” “If This and Yes”) to engine-rumbling (“Who Sees You”) to unprecedentedly percussive (“In Another Way,” the aggressive drumming of which recalls The Stone Roses’ “Fools Gold”). But the opener does not mislead. m b v has a sonic range that at least superficially mirrors that of Loveless. It oscillates between, and also holds together simultaneously, a growl and a whisper.

The long absence of the Loveless sound has surely programmed us to fixate on its remnants in m b v. So it should come as no surprise that what strikes this listener most about this new album is the aesthetic of the various soundscapes, rather than the particular merits of individual tracks. But it’s also quite obvious that none of m b v swirls and dazzles like “To Here Knows When,” “I Only Said,” or “Blown a Wish.” If this is Loveless Pt. 2, it’s the typically lesser sequel. That said, this is not the kind of perfunctory reunion that only solidifies our knowledge that a beloved group is really gone forever. m b v is an impressive work, one in which adventurous and nostalgic listeners alike will find something to appreciate.

By Benjamin Ewing

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