Sunday, October 6, 2013

My Bloody Valentine: the Nebulous Noise of "m b v"

My Bloody Valentine gave every reason to believe that the follow-up to the much-beloved 1991 album Loveless would never see release. For their vigilant fans, the reality of m b v was nothing short of earth-shattering. While I don’t have a decades-long investment in the band, my appreciation for My Bloody Valentine germinated in a slow simmer over the course of the last few years, which was culminating a few months before the album’s announcement. Fueled by my increasing interest, I was swept up in the excitement and ordered m b v through the official website at my first available opportunity.

All I really wanted was a CD, but this format was only available in an expensive bundle with an immediately downloadable version of the album. I was more than willing to wait until the CD arrived, but anticipation got the better of me. I downloaded the MP3s and burned by own copy to tide me over.  I pushed play, and:

nothing is by My Bloody Valentine on Grooveshark

It seemed like gibberish. I remembered how resistant Loveless was, so I tried to be patient.  Despite the many rave reviews it was garnering, however, I just couldn't seem to make sense of m b v. I felt a little disappointed, and I was uneasy when the CD came in the mail a few weeks later. I discovered, however, that the tracklisting for my burned copy was incorrect, and listening to m b v with the songs in the correct order was an entirely different experience.

As it turns out, m b v is more varied than its predecessor.  There are thunderous experiments that border on noise, and kicking off the album with a warp speed thrill ride was not representative of the album's overall statement.  There are also instances of relatively straightforward pop songwriting, but most of it falls somewhere between these two extremes.  With the correct tracklisting, the album coheres incredibly well, which is a tribute to songsmith and guitarist Kevin Shield’s sense of the album's larger arc. 

So, same songs, different order, and the album instantly clicked into place.  Although it was not exactly the equal of Loveless, m b v revealed itself to be a believable extension of My Bloody Valentine’s limited oeuvre. For m b v to be successful in my mind, it had to recreate the delicate, inverted balance between impossibly overdriven guitars and sighing, whispered vocals of its predecessor without duplicating it too literally. Generally, this is the case. The layer of overdrive and distortion on m b v is like a high-fidelity recording of David Bowie's Low as it might sound pumped through a set of 10 watt speakers. It is so pervasive that it almost becomes a soothing silence – perhaps the loudest silence possible. Within this cloud of fuzz lay sighing vocal lines whose exact language is all but obscured in the din.

Although it is enjoyable at quieter volumes, m b v, like its predecessor, is really meant to be listened to loudly. It makes more sense when it envelopes the listener, like the slowly swirling beauty of hyperreal nebulas might surround a lonely deep-space traveler. This enveloping characteristic seethes with sadness and melancholy and gives this iteration of My Bloody Valentine’s sound an introspective, almost meditative quality that distinguishes it from Loveless.  It still, however, captures a similarly unique and heart-crushing beauty that sets it among the better releases this year.

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