My Bloody Valentine – m b v
So, twenty one years (and then some) later and it’s finally out. The speculation for this record raised many questions, all of which Kevin Shields recently answered in the most direct way imaginable – by actually releasing it, via mybloodyvalentine.org, where it’s still available for purchase. The fact that it was even released is still surreal to most people, as another instance of Shields’ trickery was largely expected, considering how many times he’s delayed its release. But, lo and behold, the day has finally come for My Bloody Valentine to reclaim the shoegaze throne. But did they ever lose it? Not really – I mean, let’s be real.
In fact, I think that first wave of shoegaze bands (Ride, Slowdive, Chapterhouse, Catherine Wheel, Swervedriver, etc.), more or less, made up everything that is actually shoegaze, and most of this contemporary stuff has just been imitation. It’s kind of ridiculous to argue about the technicalities of something that very loosely existed, since it was a very specific time-and-place strain of psychedelic rock and pop music, and what resulted from bands like My Bloody Valentine adding the grit to dream pop. Then there’s the issue of “isn’t it all imitation to an extent?”, but let’s ignore that in favour of digressing on the significance of m b v to the shoegaze movement. Part of the conceptual appeal of shoeagaze to me, is that the combination of psychedelic rock with pop music is pretty much a big “fuck you” to the mainstream/commercial understanding of pop music. It finds a harmony (or harmony in the lack thereof?) between the abrasiveness of psychedelic rock and the catchiness of pop music, and the way My Bloody Valentine, particularly, seeks this harmony, is easily the definitive example of what makes shoegaze what it is. They demonstrated this in 1991 with Loveless, which is unrivaled in its instance of this within shoegaze, and it’s been the same ever since, because they’ve only ever been imitated.
However, over twenty one years later, they come back to the style that they pioneered, and while they stay true to what they are, they also reinvent themselves. m b v sees My Bloody Valentine treading through familiar Loveless-like territory with the first three tracks, and then expanding on their style. “She Found Now”, for example, has a very “To Here Knows When”/”Sometimes” vibe to it, but My Bloody Valentine get a nice lead in there about halfway in, that gives a real drive to the start of the album. I initially expected this entire album to be a lot like Loveless, since Shields deems it a continuation of sorts, so it makes sense that the first bit of it continues in that vein; it also sort of gives the impression that the band is reestablishing that they’re still the My Bloody Valentine (if there’s anything they have to prove to the listener), which is certainly comforting. “Is This And Yes” is where it starts to get a bit weird, as you get that psychedelic/garage rock vibe; this only gets more apparent as the album goes on, as Shields’ krautrock influences start to shine with the really Amon Duul II-esque, “In Another Way”. Furthermore, “Nothing Is” feels like it will be the next “You Made Me Realise”in a live setting (i.e. gratingly loud, but nice, if you’re into that), but it’s also got this dancey vibe to it. A popular idea among fans who speculated over “a new My Bloody Valentine album” was that the last song on Loveless, “Soon”, suggested a much dancier direction in the future, as the song really stood out from the others on the album, in that way. On m b v that’s easily most apparent with “New You”, which is probably the grooviest song My Bloody Valentine has ever written, but behind the gradually increasing volume and monotony, “Nothing Is” very much has that feel to it too. “Wonder 2” literally sounds like My Bloody Valentine is playing with jets circling around them, while a giant vacuum in the sky is sucking all of that in, and it’s sonically-challenging stuff like this that makes this album so worthwhile. Songs such as the latter, and what I associated with Shields’ krautrock influence, probably had a lot to do with his work alongside Primal Scream, as much of it is very reminiscent of something they would do, but with a Shields spin on it. So, this album is literally a continuation of Loveless, in that it maintains the sound that made My Bloody Valentine famous, but what makes it compelling is when it separates from the sound, but maintains the aesthetic. Loveless was an album that destroyed the boundaries of pop music, but kept its cues, and created something beautiful – this album does very much the same thing, but in a way that ends up showing us a new side of My Bloody Valentine.
This latter part of the album very much shows why My Bloody Valentine is the only shoegaze band that really matters – you’ve got all these contemporary bands doing what My Bloody Valentine did in 1991, with their Fender Jazzmasters, tremolo strumming, pedals upon pedals, and so on, but m b v shows that it’s not about a formula. It’s going to take a while to know how m b v will stack up to the rest of the band’s discography (mostly Loveless), but if there’s anything this record establishes, it’s shoegaze as a reaction to pop music, and not a sound bound to a certain time and genre; and if anyone has the authority to make that statement, it’s certainly them.