Ciaran Breslin and Peter Sweeney celebrate the end of a twenty year wait for My Bloody Valentine’s new album
Music, discount as we know it now, here is a uniquely young art form. In contrast to painting or prose or poetry, which have been evolving and sprawling for hundreds of years, the artistry of music as it is now has probably had its history squeezed into the last seven or eight decades. Dictated by technological advancement, this is underlined by the concept of the album, which is the modern paradigm of music-as-art. Where historical artist’s career trajectory and stylistic progression is marked by plays or novels or completed works, the mythology of modern musicians is defined by albums. The appeal of modern music then, in a way unmatched by other art forms, lies not only in it’s accessibility and universality but equally in it’s freshness; in the exhilaration of novelty and modernity, the genuine sense of boundless potential that it carries when we think of it on that plain. It all makes for a curious blend of music being both a careless and unthinking part of everybody’s life while at the same time, becoming varying degrees of deeply personal and rewarding. As the beneficiaries of this unique time, it is an incredible exciting concept to embrace. And it really only becomes apparent at certain times, like when My Bloody Valentine release a follow up to Loveless.
The story arc is part of it, of course. Everyone loves to buy into artists as much for their lifestyle and charisma as their art; for John Keats dead at 25, see Jimi Hendrix dead at 27. The romance and the melodrama makes the actual substance all the more appealing. My Bloody Valentine released Loveless in 1991, a rare album that can genuinely be termed as seminal in it’s originality and influence. After the album, Kevin Shields, the Irish mastermind behind the project, went through various stages of creative meltdown in his attempts to craft a follow up, á la Brian Wilson, or even when J.D. Salinger retired at 32 years old after writing A Cather in the Rye. Those events have been historically book ended, retrospectively assigned the requisite pathos and interest but ultimately remaining a finished thing. In mbv however, we are offered the chance to get involved in musical myth at the ground floor.
As with many more challenging art forms, My Bloody Valentine’s music comes complete with their own critical lexicon. It inevitably contains words like “fuzzy”, “noise-rock” and “drone”, and it really doesn’t do justice to the band in the same way that one might reductively refer to The Beatles as “psychedelic”. To try to isolate component parts of the overall effect almost feels sacrilegious. Part of My Bloody Valentines unique magnetism is in how difficult they are to define, in how opaque and disconnected the music fells, both emotionally and sonically while remaining so compelling. Like no other band I’ve listened to have I found myself as immersed in pure aural aesthetic textures. If everyone has some albums that you put on and zone out, Loveless always seemed to function more like zoning in, becoming unthinkingly attuned to the haze. It was admittedly bewildering and difficult to penetrate at first (no discernible “singles” in the traditional sense, unfamiliar in it’s relentless use of feedback), but represents a huge reward in contrast to investment.
So the first thing to acknowledge, is that the new album is already going to be part of musical folklore, either as the spectacular failure that ruined the legacy, or the long overdue validation, the celebration, the salvation. And thankfully, it’s the second one there. Wonderfully, despite the twenty odd years that have elapsed since it’s predecessor, mbv sounds like it was made the week after Loveless, by the same wracked instinctual genius. Layers of guitar feedback, variously screeching and rumbling are soothed by the familiar low milky vocals of Shields and bassist Debbie Googe. Like Loveless, the album doesn’t lend itself well to being picked apart for critical rationalization: both are albums about cohesion and instinct and feeling as opposed to vicissitudes. Mbv sounds equally as ethereal and mysterious, the tip of some unimaginable depth of sound and sentiment and it’s a reminder that My Bloody Valentine genuinely invented this form of music, and as such have the lightest and most assured grasp of it.
In terms of highlights, New You perhaps sounds the most immediately pleasant track, where a shimmering melody and more conventional drum beat are allowed to be sparkle above the bassy feedback. Googe’s delicate vocals sound every inch as beautiful as on Loveless’ To Here Knows When. Only Tomorrow meanwhile exhibits the familiar contrast between jagged and relentless guitar noise and the woozy, slightly breathless vocals, tense and unsure as to what is being expressed, but sure how to express it. Occasionally sheer opaqueness threatens to overtake the thrill of the album, but really all that results in is a desire to listen again and again, sensing that there’s more substance to be gleaned from the unfamiliarity. It is, predictably, difficult to pin down and dissect, particularly so soon after it’s release, but I guarantee it’s compulsion and magnificence.
Really this might be my first time listening to a new album with a degree of trepidation, meeting a new release as an equal. I imagine this must be how they felt when Highway 61 Revisited came out, or when everyone was waiting for Second Coming. Those events divided and delighted in equal measure but after a week with mbv, feeling like a small part of musical history, I am left grateful, exhilarated and most importantly, extremely satisfied.