Is it possible for any band, no matter how groundbreaking or influential, to release its first album in more than two decades and come across as not only relevant, but revelatory? Judging by the nine songs that My Bloody Valentine unveiled over the weekend, collectively available for download as the new, long-awaited album, m b v—a follow-up, 22 years in the making, to the band’s 1991 masterpiece, Loveless—the answer is an emphatic, resounding “sort of.”
Fans of the singularly gorgeous auditory realm that Kevin Shields and company crafted in the late Eighties and early Nineties—one part Dinosaur Jr., three parts Cocteau Twins, with some Sister-era Sonic Youth and Erik Satie tossed in for good measure—are certainly not going to be disappointed by the new release. Almost every track off of m b v is immediately recognizable as a My Bloody Valentine tune, with the band’s moody, distortion-driven wash of sound—somehow fragile and aggressive at once—in full flower.
Anyone hoping for (or demanding, as critics and other nitpickers so often do) a great leap forward, however, might be disappointed—at least initially. Pretty much everything on the album sounds like it could have been written and recorded for Loveless, or for the band’s stellar and often-overlooked 1988 debut, Isn’t Anything. These nine new tunes are undeniably and firmly MBV efforts, and no one even remotely familiar with the band could possibly mistake them for songs by anyone else. Here are many of the same effects—songs that sound like Beatles classics played backwards, and heard through a wall of pudding; guitars that alternately whisper, drone and soar; martial drumbeats; lilting, yearning vocals—that made My Bloody Valentine’s earlier work so seductive.
The naysayers will, of course, have a field day with this seeming lack of any growth on MBV’s part: “Twenty-two years, and they haven’t changed at all! Who do they think they are? The frickkin’ Stones?”
But for those of us who have always been drawn to the fearless soundscape—calling what they do “rock and roll” seems utterly inadequate—that Shields, Bilinda Butcher (guitar and vocals), bassist Debbie Googe and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig crafted on those two landmark albums so long ago, the notion that they haven’t changed much over the past quarter-century is cause for elation, rather than complaint. And in that sense, the new songs—which feel, rather than merely sound, so much like vintage Bloody Valentine—are anything but a letdown.
To be sure, nothing on m b v surpasses the driving, ear-opening psychedelia of “(When You Wake) You’re Still in a Dream” from Isn’t Anything; no track here resembles the beautiful, demented offspring of the Mama & the Papas and the Jesus and Mary Chain, the way Loveless‘ “What You Want” somehow did—and, thank heaven, still does. But after just a few listens to m b v, one gets the sense that these two Irishmen and two Englishwomen are perhaps getting closer to the heart of the sonic mystery they’ve been pursuing for most of their lives, and it’s mesmerizing to accompany them on the hunt.
My Bloody Valentine has been making music for 30 years, ever since they first got together in Dublin in 1983, and yet most of their new songs (“Wonder 2,” for example, or the Steve Reich-like “Nothing Is”) manage to feel fresher and riskier than 99 percent of the derivative nonsense being recorded these days. Fans of adventurous music, and not just My Bloody Valentine fanatics, should be thrilled.
Isn’t Anything was ahead of its time; Loveless (for alt-rock geeks, anyway) defined its time; m b v, with its shimmering, challenging, post-post-punk attitude, feels right on time—even if we had to wait 22 years for it to arrive. With this release, one band has proven itself audacious enough—or perverse enough—to create an album that serves as the aesthetic equivalent of leading from behind.