It was a dark, dismal night in early February. The previous two nights had entailed some hefty alcohol consumption. I wanted nothing more than to curl up in my bed and forget that anything existed outside of the warm comfort of my duvet. Instead, I spent the night in a futile battle against the cruelest of all foes – the number 403 – my only means of attack being that damp squib of a weapon, the F5 button on my laptop.
I am of course referring to the sudden, internet shattering announcement of My Bloody Valentine’s first release for over twenty years, vaguely entitled in typically modest fashion by the shoegaze legends, m b v. This is a band that my 16 year old self had fallen head over heels for, partly from reading too much NME, partly out of a vain desire to obtain the most obscure and un-current taste in music, but completely out of the adoration for what I heard.
After what must have been near to 403 fruitless refreshings of their new website in an attempt to snatch the slightest of peeks at even a track-list, I gave up. After all, having naively followed a number of links posted on an increasingly irate and despairing Facebook thread to a wee ginger chappy gallivanting around in Lt. Columbo’s raincoat, I had concluded that this was potentially the web’s biggest ever ‘Rick Roll’ in history. If only the masterminds behind the joke had dished out for a larger server.
But there could be only one group of masterminds behind this internet shattering rush for audible nuggets of gold, and given that their last release came when the world-wide-web community consisted of Bill Gates and the participants of Tron, they may be excused for lacking the technological savvy to anticipate such an onrush of traffic to their web-page.
This is in no way a shocking thing. Twenty-two years ago, the musical world was well and truly swooned, smothered and pummeled in the ears by an album from four improbable audio revolutionaries from Dublin. My Bloody Valentine’s second LP – 1991’s Loveless – was the product of enigmatic front-man Kevin Shields’ unique and unrivaled vision of how guitar-music could be made. Layered waves of distorted, reverb heavy, pitch bending riffs created the much clichéd trademark ‘wall of noise’ sound which the band can claim patent to. This combined with Shields’ and Bilinda Butcher’s spectral vocals created a sound which was simultaneously a headache inducing perma-punch of jet engine static as well as as a warm, fuzzy mitten of melodic comfortude softly stroking your soul into hypnotic oblivion. It really depended on what kind of day you’d had.
It has been often mythologised that the inability to produce a suitable follow-up forced Shields into seclusion and sent him spiraling toward mental breakdown. The facts behind the legends that surround Loveless are in no way less compelling – the recording of the album nearly bankrupted a semi-major record label, it became the magnum opus of the shoegaze genre and it has found a regular perch in the highest echelons of every ‘greatest albums of all time ever’ list ever compiled. Their almost unanimous critical acclaim and stature as cult icons of alternative rock puts them up there with the likes of The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, and Radiohead as one of the most innovative and genre-defying bands ever.
For all the media fuss and the two decades of absence – but for a flurry of live shows circa 2008 – My Bloody Valentine’s return to recording has proved that not a lot needed to change for the band to persist in blowing away their listeners.
m b v is an album that is not far removed from 1991’s Loveless in sonic achievement and ambition. The same layers of effect laden guitars are strung throughout the record to very much the same overwhelming degree. What has differed since then is age. Loveless was bursting with force; from the opening drum roll of ‘Only Shallow’, through the razor sharp omni-shredding of ‘I Only Said’, to the semi-disco sprightliness of ‘Soon’, you felt like this was a band who knew they were on the brink of something ground-breaking, and they weren’t afraid to throw down the sledgehammer.
With m b v, it’s easy to tell that a lot of time has passed, and with it so has the energy mustered in the hands holding the plectrums and the drumsticks. This isn’t a bad thing, however. The central riff of ‘Only Tomorrow’ at first sounds laboured, but has the ability to do something that perhaps no other My Bloody Valentine riff has ever done – to be weirdly, mesmerisingly, and effortlessly catchy. ‘New You’ has a bass line that plods over a shimmering whammy guitar and one of the bands most well achieved vocal melodies, making it actually somewhat recognisable as a conventionally structured song rather than an utter mind-melting bombardment of noise. That said, the bravado does pick up a little with the rolling drums of ‘In Another Way’ and the colossal thunder-fuck riff of ‘Nothing Is’ just in time for the spaghettifying jet engine suction ordeal that is the album’s closer ‘Wonder 2’.
What m b v offers is Loveless, again, but ever so slightly different. This may not sound a remarkable feat, and the question arises over how the band took so long to release an album they had already made. But the remarkable thing is this: in the twenty or so years that have passed, many bands have come and gone and a number of bands in recent memory – Wild Nothing, Glasvegas, The Horrors et al – have attempted to recreate the sound immortalised in 1991 on Loveless to some success, but without really reaching the bar. My Bloody Valentine’s latest release proves that their innovative vision of the early 90s can be pulled off and still sound as fresh in today’s musical climate as it did then.
My Bloody Valentine’s m b v can be found in it’s entirety on YouTube.