In the 21 years since Loveless, My Bloody Valentine have accrued almost insurmountable expectations within the rock community. Many fledgling groups have tried (and failed) to replicate the Irish band’s swirling vortex of reverb, drum loops and angelic vocals. Meanwhile, their 1991 magnum opus has become a cult classic and garnered numerous musical accolades in and outside of the artistic community.
After last year’s announcement that a new record had finally been mastered, MBV followers around the globe put the band’s discography on repeat and waited intently for the fabled release. Founding member and guitarist Kevin Shields promised that their new effort would be a “stranger” affair than Loveless. On the night of Feb. 2, with the release of m b v, they finally made good on their promise. Their official website—on which the album was exclusively sold—was sent into Internet server oblivion from overpopulation as fans scrambled and jockeyed to listen to it throughout the evening.
The wait was worth it. Never breaking the barrier into cosmic abstraction, their “stranger” new direction retains the central elements of Isn’t Anything and Loveless while breaking new ground. Any fan worried that My Bloody Valentine would careen into unwelcome territory can breathe a sigh of relief. After the first few measures of the opening track “she found now,” their characteristic wall of sound coalesces into a silky melody, and Shields’ diaphanous voice delivers a string of MBV’s distinctively enigmatic lyrics: “I wonder how you found out/ You could be the one for me.” The following track “only tomorrow” is more triumphant and bouyant than most MBV tracks. Bilinda Butcher’s vocals reconcile the instrumental dissonance until midway through when her voice rises and quickly dissipates, leaving Kevin Shields to shred our ear buds with an uncharacteristically exultant guitar solo.
“who sees you” is the melancholic counterpoint to “only tomorrow,” and it’s where MBV’s poetic aptitude is most fleshed out. The drums and guitar remain the initial focus, but Shields’ longing drone appears again with a morbid tinge: “Who will you choose/ say goodbye to this world/ and I’ll come.” The lyrics are hard to decipher but render the correct expressionist affect within the context of the song. “is this and yes” is a clever tonal shift. With its airy synths and Bilinda’s angelic vocals, the song serves as a palate-cleanser after the emotionally exhausting starting trio. Shields retreats back to the refuge of his guitar for the rest of m b v and Bilinda has full reign over singing duties.
The ensuing track “if I am” lapses their sound back into a resonating and cavernous space. This return to form is broken by “new you”, a song that sounds like Stereolab on downers. The remainder of the album furthers the experiments away from their usual sound. “nothing is” offers an expanding Mobius strip of drum loops and hammering guitar riffs that serve as instrumental catharsis before the album’s finale. “wonder 2” ends m b v on an up-tempo note. With the frenzied breakbeat drum rhythm motivating a churning plane engine-like guitar roar, the band solidifies that they have not settled for rehashed versions of their previous accomplishments.
Judging m b v’s merit after such a limited time feels sacrilegious. MBV’s musical output is ethereal and necessitates sustained listening before its full range of meaning can sink in. Over these past 21 years, their songs have harbored entire concepts—love, depression, heartbreak, ecstasy—and have been creative catalysts for a large swath of contemporary musicians. The full scope of m b v’s greatness will only be known as a new generation of fans and incipient artists are exposed to and invigorated by its presence. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: there has been no band that sounds like My Bloody Valentine and there never will be.