Wednesday, February 20

Track-By-Track: My Bloody Valentine - 'mbv.'

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So, this is pretty much where I'm at right now concerning music.

I didn't plan on it, but I sometimes lament certain gaps in my collection, which leads me to certain, unexplainable, cheeseball iTunes purchases in the middle of the night. For the record, I enjoy and regularly listen to all three of these songs.

But let's talk about My Bloody Valentine for a bit.

You know the story: MBV releases Loveless in 1991, a noisy, lush, shoegaze masterpiece of ear-splitting proportions. However, Kevin Shields and company dissolve into meltdown mode, and the group releases nearly no new material for the next two decades. Until couple of weeks ago, when mbv is dropped onto an unsuspecting public.

Nearly all of mbv was recorded prior to the band's 1997 breakup, so it's more of a 'lost' album than something that should be discussed alongside other 2013 releases, but to me, this seems like a pleasing compromise. After all, I'd much rather listen to a 1996 MBV album than a 2013 one (or any album released in 1996), as would the majority of their fans.

So, here's the thing; I haven't listened to a single second of mbv yet, which makes it the perfect album to kick off what I hope will be a recurring feature here on the CDP: Track-by-track, instant analysis, stream-of-conscious album reviews by yours truly.

I understand that My Bloody Valentine is undoubtedly a band whose legacy depends on repeated listens over many years, which is precisely why I wanted to do something in stark contrast. Furthermore, I've been waiting for this album for what seems like forever now, and I really wanted to give it the undivided attention it (potentially) deserved.

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Here we go. If you want to play along, you may want to queue up your copy of mbv right about...now!

Conditions: In my office with my lights off (lava lamp optional), headphones on with a glass of Jameson whiskey. The only other acceptable condition would be in the midst of a frantic makeout session, which I was unfortunately unable to set up in time. Sometimes one must compromise for art. Oh, and mute your cell phones, kids.

Track 1 - 'She Found Now' (5:06)
Okay, here we go, and I'm instantly hit with a barrage of trademark feedback and layered vocals swimming in the background. This band definitely has a signature sound. I made the decision to not look up the lyrics beforehand, as they matter not with MBV; Shields even said it himself, it's a means to support the music and hardly anything more (although they can be solid at times).

I don't know why I expected a rocking opener; it's definitely not what I'm getting, but it's still good in a completely different way. I don't listen to much shoegaze anymore (does anyone?), but I love when a band can do it well, and nobody does it better than MBV. I feel like I'm swimming in a river of milk chocolate.

Four minutes and twenty seconds into the opening track, and I just finally hear the faintest kick drum. This was the only percussion on the whole song. Nonetheless, a solid opener that sets the mood (and it's all about mood).

Track 2 - 'Only Tomorrow' (6:22)
Immediately more upbeat here, with what sounds like layered male/female vocals. If you've never listened to this band, you may not understand why it's so hard to discern the vocals; it sounds more like a ghostly EVP than an actual human being standing in front of a studio microphone. The drums sound really clean in contrast to the buzzing guitars, which creates a nice juxtaposition.

I'm pretty sure there weren't many digital production techniques used on this album (or at least the tracks I've heard thus far), and it makes perfect sense. For a band like this, there's a warmth you're looking to capture that's far more important than the latest digital editing or auto-tuning tool. Shields knows what his band is supposed to sound like.

Still swimming in chocolate, only now I feel like I've been joined by an old friend and we're not struggling against the current so much.

I should also mention that the last 11 minutes of feedback, which could feel like a torturous eternity to some, has whizzed right by for me. They're switching things up and staying just melodic enough to keep from droning, which is a complaint I've heard by some in regards to Loveless.

Track 3 - 'Who Sees You' (6:12)
If I knew how to make these sounds come out of musical instruments, I'd probably be a slightly-insane megalomaniacal studio mastermind, too.

The vocals kicked in prominently about a minute into this track, which felt refreshing. The guitar riff here sort of reminds me of the band Hum, which I'm sure isn't the first or last time the two bands will be mentioned in the same sentence.

Word of warning: mbv is not driving music. While eclectic and interesting enough, it will probably hypnotize you to sleep if listening to it on a lengthy midnight drive. This is intercourse music, plain and simple, although I feel it could make something as benign as mailing a letter feel like a life-affirming experience (see Explosions In The Sky). You can't study to this music, you can't write a grocery list, and you definitely can't use it to get pumped up for a forthcoming event. This should be used as the soundtrack to Valentine's Day lovemaking and/or chocolate eating, and nothing more or less.

The abrupt ending of this track was jarring in contrast to the fadeout of the previous one. I dug it.

Track 4 - 'If This And Yes' (5:07)
Weird, layered keyboards to start this song. I almost want to say they sound cheesy and dated, but they all seem to make sense within this dreamworld. It's interesting how something as abrasive as a violently-electric guitar can be used for such trance-like and hypnotic window dressing. It's either genius or ridiculous; it's hard to find any middle ground.

Female-dominated vocals in this one. I should mention that while there have been vocals for nearly half the album so far, I haven't exactly recognized a single word. A single word. And I'm always, subconsciously listening for lyrics. Perhaps they're speaking the Sims language.

This track felt more like an interlude or introduction that never got off the ground, but it was beautifully orchestrated nonetheless. Those looping keyboards haven't changed since the song started five minutes ago, which adds to the hypnotic nature (which is what I assume they were going for).

Track 5 - 'If I Am' (3:54)
This track starts with a sultry female vocal and a shuffling, astro-lounge-esque beat. This is also about the time where I need to freshen up my drink. I'm tapping my hands to this one; there's an above-and-beyond sexiness to it that I really like. It sounds like the stuff on Loveless I tend to gravitate most to.

So far, this is the only thing even closely resembling a 'single' on this album (I mean, if one had to be picked). Also, at a length of 3:54, it's the second-shortest track on the album. Seriously, I cannot understand a single word.

Hum's You'd Prefer An Astronaut was an album I used to fall asleep to. Why I never did that with Loveless is beyond me, but I could definitely see myself doing it to mbv. This is a compliment, by the way.

Track 6 - 'New You' (4:59)
So far, 'New You' has the most driving beat (or any discernible beat whatsoever). And hey, I can understand the vocals! Wow, this sounds like a totally different band!

I'm digging this track; there's a vibe to it that's just on the outer reaches of Pop sensibility, and it's really towing the line between mainstream catchiness (without a chorus) and mbv-esque lushness. Whatever I said about the last song being the best single on the album has been officially usurped by 'New You.'

There's a simplicity in this song that makes me smile; that happy desperation that hopeless romantics seem to enjoy being awash in. Don't really know how else to explain it; probably the best 'gateway' song on the album.

Track 7 - 'In Another Way' (5:31)
This song starts off noisy (surprised?), with almost a jungle beat and a dominating guitar riff leading into breathy female vocals. Again, mbv is hitting me with more melodic shifts and surprises than I really expected. I mean, it's exactly what I wanted it to sound like, all while adding some elements I didn't even realize I wanted. Seven tracks in, and I'm extremely satisfied by what I'm hearing.

I'll tell you what, though. It's a good thing I don't have anything else I have to do today, because mbv is tapping me mentally. That's what this band does; it absorbs your lifeforce or something. I'm going to need a nap.

This is one of the more percussion-based tracks, with the guitar following a set beat (instead of meedlie-weedling all over the place), and the synths soaring over the carnage.

Track 8 - 'Nothing Is' (3:34)
This one is verging on Techno as it begins, which feels very 1997. Was that the year The Prodigy got huge? I can't remember.

Wow...three minutes in and the same 2-bar beat from the beginning hasn't stopped. It literally just got louder and that's it.

And it's over. Nothing happened. Yikes, that should have been an interlude to break up the first and second halves of the album. Not a great outing considering the first seven tracks. In fact, it wasn't really a song. Just a beat that perhaps they forgot to record over. Hey, they only had 20 years, perhaps they ran out of time.

Track 9 - 'Wonder 2' (5:52)
Okay, they're back. This one is phased into oblivion, which I kind of like. It literally sounds like a jet flew over their heads as they were recording this song.

A verse of female vocals leads into a barrage of distorted strings (or something) that builds tension amongst the driving jungle beat deep in the background. When the vocals finally return at 2:40, the song gets back on the rails again. Moreso than any other track on mbv, 'Wonder 2' seems to be slowly building tension, and kind of giving me a headache. The instruments aren't matching up, which had to have been done on purpose to disorient the listener, but it's not necessarily anything I could call 'enjoyable.'

For the first time in this review, I actually had to turn the volume down, which I guess means that My Bloody Valentine won. Touche', chaps. And it's over.

In conclusion, it's a My Bloody Valentine album, and if you love Loveless, you're probably going to love mbv. Believe me, it's a lot better than I thought it was going to be. Some potentially built it up to a point where it couldn't possibly satisfy their anticipation, but I was going in the opposite direction and was very pleasantly surprised. Inversely, if you never liked MBV, you're definitely not going to like mbv.

Sound off in the comments section, tell me the worst song you ever paid money for, and enjoy your day.

Comments:
I can't make any snarky comments, because it's very difficult to convey my spot-on My Bloody Valentine impression in writing ;)
 
I just heard your impression in my head and LOLd. I gotta say, though, that this is as good as anything I heard last year (if you're into this sort of thing).
 
I own a Billy Ray Cyrus cd. That is all.
 

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