Sunday, February 3, 2013

ruminations: my bloody valentine- 'm b v'

This is not a review of the new my bloody valentine record. It’s one of those albums that falls under the ‘un-reviewable’ category. I was 99% certain that I would love it almost no matter what it ended up sounding like—how could I not?! My bloody valentine have been one of my two favourite bands since I was 16. Over the course of the last 17 years I’ve managed to dig up lost treasures of theirs wherever I could and they always caused the same effect—they would always sound fresh, unique, innovative and blow my mind in ways I hadn’t even known were possible yet. Few first listening experiences are as vivid in my mind as listening to ‘loveless’ for the first time in 1995. I bought it at Best Buy and a friend and I put it on my boom box in my mom’s old sewing room in our house. The first song ripped through us and the transitional music both had us simultaneously declare ‘whoa!’ By the time ‘to here knows when’ came droning through those overtaxed speakers I may or may not have said, ‘Holy crap! This is like nothing I’ve ever heard in my life!’ We were speechless through the entire thing. I’d already been listening to ‘Isn’t Anything’ so I THOUGHT I knew what to expect, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This trend continued as I did deeper and deeper searching—I found their Creation era EPs in various random places and each one was a unique listening experience. Over the next decade or so I’ve been able to dig up more and more of their rarities. To me it was always a case of recognizing the near-perfect combination of strong songwriting and sonic perfection.

When the rumors started floating around in July that Kevin Shields was hard at work making the last push to finish the long abandoned third mbv album from the 90s I listened with the same trepidation so many did. I wanted to believe it would become a reality so badly—it was something I’d waited for hopelessly for years and years and years and had finally come to terms with the fact that it would probably never happen. When the band renewed their live activity in 2008 it seemed like the promise grew even brighter. As the sources continued to confirm tracks being finished one by one the trepidation-laced jubilation continued. Word reached the forum I lurked on that the album had been mixed followed a few weeks later by an announcement on the mbv facebook page that the album had been mastered a few days before Christmas. It was terrifying—it existed! Knowing that made the waiting all the more excruciating as any mbv fan knows that it could’ve been shelved again by Shields’ inability to let his work arrive at an endpoint. There was silence and speculation, then disenchantment. Naysaying and bickering began to break out. One post hit me incredibly hard—a poster on the forum theorized that the new album’s impact could be dulled by the obscene amount of imitators that have popped up over their 20 year absence. While at first this thought seemed ridiculous to me the more I thought about it the more possible it became. And then last night the announcement came, the site crashed for an hour, it returned and I plunked down the $40 for the vinyl version of the album and downloaded the digital files and loaded them onto my computer, my hands shaking with disbelief. I heard the first few seconds of each track while adding them into my iTunes library. Stefanie and I stopped the movie we were watching and sat and listened to the whole thing through our iPanda player and the record oozed surreally out of the speakers, just like ‘loveless’ had back when I first heard it in 1995.

Naturally, I loved it. It was unlike anything I could’ve possibly imagined. Even the familiar guitar sounds that Kevin Shields is known for were filled with new playful twists and turns. 'Ecstatic' doesn’t even cover it as it turns out. Even after listening to the album four times I find myself struggling to grasp the reality of the fact that I am listening to a record I waited hopelessly for more than half of my life and that it still somehow managed to SURPASS any expectations I may have had by lightyears. The production is Shields’ warmest and chunkiest to date. One of the aspects of ‘loveless’ I often struggle with is the saturated compression of every note on it. Plus I’ve always thought that the drum sounds were sacrificed in the breadth of the array of textures and tones, only springing to vivid life on the closing track ‘soon.’ Not so with ‘m b v’—the drums sound clean, clear and ballsy. The guitars also favor more of a chunky merging with the monstrous bass. It sounds a lot more like the creation of a band. The vocals sound similarly woozy and glazed over. Opening track ‘she found now’ continues to be my favourite—its heavy, blissed-out and the type of beautiful track that I’ve always expected from mbv. A lot of the rhythms echo Shields’ tales from the mid-90s of the band’s obsession with incorporating jungle rhythms into their music. Hearing this I always realized it meant that they would be injected into their music the way that they had incorporated hip-hop influenced rhythms into ‘Slow’ off of the ‘you made me realise’ EP. It’s one thing to imagine this, but as I did so I was always painfully aware of the fact that it probably wouldn’t sound anywhere near like how I expected it. This calls to mind the closing three tracks—‘wonder 2’ in particular (see below). These are songs that manage to tie my brain into a pretzel. It’s important to note that they manage to push my bloody valentine even further into completely new areas. The fact that this is even possible is further proof of Kevin Shields’ unparalleled genius. No wonder he doesn’t operate under any semblance of the normal constraints of time that the rest of us adhere to—he is so far off in his own glorious world.

I’m looking forward to the day that the vinyl arrives in the mail as I know that it’s going to sound even better. Shields took the time and money to record the entire album on 2 inch 24 track tape, mix it down to 1/2 inch 2 track tape and master completely in analog. As someone who’s gone to great lengths to keep my own music completely in the analog realm I’ve often had to make concessions and sacrifices. Anyone who gets it done right deserves major kudos for doing so. It’s a complete pain in the ass!

One thing I’ve noticed—hardly anyone is asking the most obvious question about this record—‘Was it worth the 21 year wait?’ The reason no one’s asking is because it is beyond a doubt. Hopefully the band will deliver on their promise of continuing to work on new material—Shields has been talking about an EP of all new material in April of this year to be followed by an album of entirely new material. It’s nice to think that it might actually come out. After all, the band are now able to do anything they want on completely their own terms. The motivation appears to be there for them to continue working and Shields has always said that the band first fell apart due to a lack of motivation. Even if they’re never able to release new material ‘m b v’ should be enough to tide me over for quite a while to come.

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