Last Saturday and Sunday were special. On Saturday night, Kevin Shields — the notorious recluse behind My Bloody Valentine — finally released “m b v,” an album he’d been working on for 22 years, to the public. A simple Facebook update — “The album is now live” — whipped hordes of music fans into action. The massive influx of traffic caused the band’s website to crash, leaving fans waiting, again, for the elusive followup to 1991‘s “Loveless.”
Seems everyone’s got a “Loveless” story. Mine goes like this: In 2005, I was a freshman at college and for the first time in my life, I had my own computer and a fast internet connection. I downloaded many wonderful records that year: “Illmatic,” “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.” Then I heard Slowdive’s “Alison,” so of course I fell in love with shoegaze. I loved the big guitars, the muted vocals. I was told I’d love “Loveless,” an album by this hot-shot band, My Bloody Valentine.
Okay not a great story, but I do have a point. Within a month of discovering the album, I played Loveless for a friend. “This will change your life,” I said. “Or at least how you think about music.”
The fervor over m b v’s release is really a testament to Loveless. It’s a perfect album and an influence to nearly every musician who’s heard it. If you haven’t heard it, stop what you’re doing this very instant and change that. What are you thinking?
So by Sunday morning, a global listening party had taken shape. People from all over the world plugged in. We heaped our expectations on Shields’ shoulders and pressed play. And what did we hear?
“m b v” starts with “she found now,” an understated mood setter with the usual churning guitars and subdued vocals. It was obviously written by the same mind responsible for Loveless opener, “Only Shallow,” but it’s comparatively tranquil and contemplative, easing-in whereas “Only Shallow” catapults.
“only tomorrow,” “who sees you,” and “if i am” find MBV up to their old tricks. Shields uses the tremolo arm of his guitar to create dense, wobbling guitar tones, and vocalist/guitarist Bilinda Butcher coos over the top. The drums and bass stay on the pulse, following Shields through a series of unexpected chord changes.
“new you” is an instant classic. It finds MBV at their most melodic. That familiar synth from “Sometimes” comes to the fore, and Shields’ guitar is unusually spare, putting to death the myth he multi-tracks his guitar parts hundreds of times.
Through track six, one could mistake calling the new album “Diet Loveless.” Its differences are subtle, its mood similar. “nothing is” changes all that. Shields cranks the tempo and introduces a new percussive element to MBV’s sound. Drummer Colm O’ Ciosoig finally gets his turn to play loud. He was sick for the “Loveless” sessions, and as a result, Shields sampled and looped what few drum parts he had recorded, then buried them in the mix. On “m b v,” he proves he’s got the chops. The penultimate track “nothing is” gallops by with a much-needed rhythmic bludgeoning. The final song “wonder 2” is m b v’s best. It’s the synthesis of everything MBV does well, plus pummeling drums.
Every serious music fan has a “Loveless” story, but many of us weren’t there when it came out. We listened years after the fact. Last Saturday, Shields released “m b v,” and now I’ve got a new story. At the risk of putting m b v on a pedestal, I’ll always remember where I was and what I was doing when it came out. That’s how big of a deal this was. Cheers to Kevin Shields for finally coming to peace with this new record. It must take a great deal of courage to know the world’s listening to your music, and not just here and there, but all at once.