Reflecting on My Bloody Valentine’s mbv

I discovered My Bloody Valentine at the tail end of my high school years in 2011 — a kid just getting into the genre of shoegaze and music for the introverted. I dove deep into bands that emulated the blissed-out wall of sound that Kevin Shields created with his guitar technique. It was a sound that carried amplified guitar feedback sculpted to his liking, and at the same time, demonstrated the most arresting chord progressions that allow you to look into your mind and reflect. It had been twenty years since My Bloody Valentine’s last record came out, and I was intrigued that they were still engaged in putting out a new album. As an ignorant teenager, I could not conceive of people in bands in their 40’s — let alone their 50’s — making any good and relatable music, or at least music that still made sense to me as a teenager. Two years after continually listening to Loveless, and as soon as I found out that they released the record for free on their website, I became utterly floored. I dove right into the beast. The music felt totally aligned with how I perceived the world — a dreary and almost apocalyptic state of hedonistic decay. It was my perception of the world anyway. I felt jaded with what I wanted to do in school and consumed as much music as possible. That year was a time of brooding for me, so listening as much music as possible gave me a distraction from my depressed state. mbv provided me that cave that I could hibernate in for the rest of that winter.

mbv is a three-part feast: a story to tell in three parts despite Shields admitting that earlier on during the recording process, he was “purposefully not trying to write songs with a beginning, middle and end.” The record just happened to be written and recorded multiple times during its 15-year construction. On first listen, mbv’s first three tracks reveal a vitality to them. There was a grandiosity found on old tracks like “Come In Alone” and “I Only Said,” where I feel a constant shiver on every bent guitar chord. Those opening chords on “She Found Now” immediately makes me melt in my body. It’s one of the more profound introductions on an album I’ve ever heard. The ghostly vocals of Shields evaporate like mist as each strum of his guitar wallow in despair. That shiver reverberates to my bones as his signature tremolo effect demonstrates his aptitude for texture and atmosphere. On “Only Tomorrow” and “Who Sees You,” amps are turned up to 10 and feature the guitars pushing the distortion limit that only Shields knows how to manipulate into piercing thunder. It also might be the loudest guitars on a record that can put anyone to sleep because of how serene the atmosphere can feel. Not to mention Bilinda Butcher’s whispered vocals; it’s easy to daydream as you explore the softness of her breath veiled in the mix.

My Bloody Valentine changes the mood on the 2nd coda as tracks float lightly just a few inches off the ground. On “Is This and Yes,” hollow organs are played hauntingly while Butcher croons in languor. It’s a respite that calls for tranquility before Colm Ó Cíosóig’s mechanical drum beat kicks in on “If I Am,” a sultry dream pop track designed to make butterflies flutter. It recalls Loveless’s penchant for love songs and candied riffs. Butcher repeats the phrase “be my lover,” as if staring into your soul, eyes fully locked. The disco-influenced “New You” then creates a more slow-burnt dance under the moonlight. This second part of the record encapsulates My Bloody Valentine’s taste in pop music. Many tracks from Loveless and on their first album Isn’t Anything had those same inclinations, yet were always wrapped in cacophony. It feels as if My Bloody Valentine decides to sweeten up their sound with more modern production chops 20 years later and then veer back into sheer volume in the record’s final act.

The third part of mbv revs the engine back up to prepare for an onslaught to your ears. Its drums trudge in militaristic fashion through its first two tracks and slowly evolve into something out of this world. “In Another Way” is a kind of assessment in engaging in radical cacophony. It returns to those heavily distorted guitars, somewhat churning out what’s left of its pop energy. The track then devolves to “Nothing Is” to clear a path for destruction. It feels post-apocalyptic in the way that Mad Max: Fury Road exhibits the fatalistic pursuit of Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa by pursuant Immortan Joe and his blood-thirsty War Boys. I can just imagine Shields or bassist Debbie Googe strapped to one of the war vehicles to hype up the hunt. Finally, ender “Wonder 2” fully draws you into its gravity. Drums are fully rendered into artificial Burial-esque jungle. It’s a strange fusion of electronic music, shoegaze, and novelty that makes this final stretch of mbv somewhat of a new direction of their sound.

I often wonder what it would have been like if I was in my teen years or even in my early twenties when Loveless came out. Music fans back then must have had felt lucky to be living in a year that broke through the glass ceiling of rock and hip-hop as albums such as Spiderland, The Low End Theory, Nevermind, and Loveless came out. In some ways, mbv turned out to be my Loveless. Its music has been drilled into my consciousness the way Loveless might have been to fans back then. In 2018 there was news of two new My Bloody Valentine records coming out in 2019. It’s the last day of 2019 as I write this, and no records have come out to no one’s surprise. It’s okay. If it took them 22 years to release something as beautiful as mbv, and it takes another 22 years, it looks like I’ll have a good year of listening to music in my 40’s.

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