Monday, February 25, 2013

CD Review: My Bloody Valentine - “MBV” (2013)

After a guerrilla launch, the first My Bloody Valentine album in more than 20 years is finally here…and yeah, it’s pretty good. Mostly. 

My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 album “Loveless” is unquestionably one of the best alternative rock albums of the 1990s. Really, it’s one of the few much-adored, Spin and Rolling-Stone-beloved compact discs from the era that truly deserves all the acclaim and accolades it gets; “Slanted and Enchanted” and “Aeroplane over the Sea” can straight up blow me.

The first time I heard “Sometimes,” it was positively floored. It was such an effortless, lo-fi, humdrum display of minimalist beauty, and it was positively breathtaking. In fact, listening to that album in its entirety for the first time basically constituted an out-of-body experience for me; as soon as “Only Shallow” kicks in, it’s as if your spirit hops inside the body of a transsexual alien shopping for frozen yogurt, or you Quantum Leap inside the boots of an obsessed stalker pleasuring himself in the bushes will weeping over a particularly meaningful passage from “The Canterbury Tales.” It sounds like a peculiar reaction to have to a rock and roll album, but trust me; once you actually listen to it, you will know EXACTLY what I am talking about here.

To the uninitiated, I suppose you could mistake “My Bloody Valentine” for just another one of those needlessly celebrated, shit-rock alt-acts whose music sounds like the audio cross-pollination of a malfunctioning blender and the mating call of psychopathic baleen whales. Despite being fronted by the world’s single biggest fan of fuzz pedals (and similarly, a dude that looks like the bastard amalgamation of Chewbacca and Johnny Depp), MBV is actually one of the better much-ballyhooed bands from the largely forgettable “shoe gaze” genre, and if you haven’t given them a listen -- yeah, you probably need to.

After two decades of not releasing shit, the band decided to covertly launch their first album in 22 years literally overnight, with tons of neck bearded hipster douche bags waking up in early February and blowing their collective wads upon finding out, “hey, there’s a lot of new MBV material on the Internet this morning!” Ingeniously titled “MBV” (get it! That way, it’s a self-titled album, but not really!), the CD launched on the Intrawebs earlier this month, to pretty much universal acclaim. Ever the curious sort (and an individual that enjoys the taste of roasted, holy bovine), I decided to take the entire album for a test spin and the results? Well…yeah, I kinda’ liked what I heard, unfortunately.

Track One
“She Found Now”

The song (and hence, the album) starts off with a nice, slow, muted tempo with a solid, but understated, guitar hook in the background. As far as fuzz box noise usage goes, the song is classic My Bloody Valentine, with carefully-arranged static tracing the song throughout it’s five minute lifespan. I guess the best way to describe the track is U2 covering a Muzak version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” - well, that, or the Deftones, if the Deftones, you know, sounded good.

Track Two
“Only Tomorrow” 

Definitely one of the best songs on the entire album, with a pulsating, heavy secondary riff pushing through a fuzzy-as-hell lead track. Out of all the new numbers, this is the one that sounds most at home on “Loveless” - it’s familiar, and melodic, and chaotic, and reassuring, and mildly frustrating, and uneven and totally inharmoniously beautiful all the same. At almost seven minutes in length, the track does tend to linger on for about a minute or two longer than it probably should, but considering the masterful guitar work on this one, it’s kinda’ hard to complain about much of anything here.

Track Three
“Who Sees You”

Even if you don’t think the new album is on par with their almost-impossible-to-top discography, you really have to give the band props for NOT radically altering their sound. This track doesn’t just sound like something recorded in 1990, it actually sounds like it was recorded using 1990 EQUIPMENT; you could have told me this thing was an unused B-side on “Loveless,” and I never would have known the difference. One of the weaker tracks on the album, but yeah…it’s still better than 99.723 percent of what you’ll hear on the radio these days.

Track Four
“Is This and Yes”

Probably the “artsiest” sounding-track on the album, with a minute-long pseudo-synth opening that sounds kinda’ like the soundtrack for a relatively highbrow porno looped around the menu screen for a “Shin Megami Tensei” title. As the case with most of MBV’s discography, I have no earthly clue what the lead singer is saying, or even if he (or she?) is actually uttering English language things on the track. A little too experimental for my liking, but it’s not wholly detestable, either.

Track Five
“If I Am”

A traditional shoe gaze ballad, with breathy, sigh-y vocals and a twangy, albeit low-pitched guitar-driven sound and probably some drums in the mix somewhere. Kevin Shields sounds remarkably the same as he did back in 1991 - either the dude used some Dr. Oz shit to preserve his vocal chords, or audio-dubbing equipment nowadays is flat out astonishing. A decent track, but it seems a little too staid for my liking. If you like your tracks lukewarm and Slowdive-sounding, you’ll probably dig this one.

Track Six
“New You”

You know, the Smashing Pumpkins were heavily influenced by MBV, so I guess it’s a little meta that the first thing I thought of when I heard this track was “holy shit, Billy Corgan remembered how to mix a track again!” Anyway, it’s a very relaxed track - yes, even for the band - and really one of the stronger tunes on the album. I really like the bass line, and the vocals on this one are particularly crisp and reassuring. That, and I won’t BS you - if you close your eyes and listen to the song, just TRY and not picture the front man from Wheatus pulling microphone duties.

Track Seven
“In Another Way”

Definitely the album’s signature “ass kicker,” and certainly the most energetic track on the entire CD. The guitar work here is quite good, with a nice, zesty twang that pushes throughout the entire song, with some electronic-funk-gunk-techno-synth stuff going on in the background to make things a tad more versatile. The best drum work on the entire album is probably on showcase here; a solid overall track, but by the four minute mark, you’ve heard pretty much all there is to hear.

Track Eight
“Nothing Is”

Well, if you were wondering whether or not MBV still had their analog input devices from the late 1980s in deep storage, this track answers your inquiry. Arguably the weirdest and least-MBV sounding track on the entire album, and probably the most needless. It’s not quite unredeemable filler, but it certainly seems out-of-place within the greater context of the album.

Track Nine
“Wonder 2”

The concluding track, in my humblest of opinions, is probably the worst song on the entire album. The whole ditzy, space-rock vacuum-sound stuff just doesn’t gel with Shields’ vocals, and the guitars seem a little stretched out in some parts. I think this one can be attributed to way too much pressure on the artists to end the album on something super sonic and hyper-memorable; instead, this otherwise way-better-than-average album ends on a surprisingly bland note.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by “MBV.” While it has nowhere near the impact of “Loveless,” it’s a solid album through and through, and there’s nothing on the album really worth hating. The CD is getting some downright absurdly high scores from the elitist music press, and while the album does deserve quite a bit of praise, I think it’s coronation as album of the year is just a wee bit pre-mature. And for those dingle berries that are ALREADY calling this thing “album of the decade?” Good sirs, I turn your attention here, here, here, and here . This stuff is undoubtedly pretty good, but the best out there right now? Nah, I’ll still take the latest from Metric, Off!, and Sleigh Bells over this, thank you very much.

So to conclude? “MBV” is a good album. Good, but probably not great, and certainly not as good as “Loveless,” by any stretch. But it’s still good, for the most part. In other words; the album is EXACTLY what you thought it would be, for better, and for worse, and thankfully the better generally outweighs the worse this time around.

The follow up album, currently on track for a February 2034 release, is already looking quite promising…


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