My Bloody Valentine “MBV” Full Album

The nine-song mbv can be divided into thirds and the first three-song section, consisting of “She Found Now”, “Only Tomorrow”, and “Who Sees You”, finds Shields exploring the untapped textural possibilities of the guitar. The last several years have been bad ones for the instrument. In independent music circles, the guitar has become synonymous with regression, a symbol used to evoke something from the past. And that might seem at first equally true here, since the tone of Shields’ guitar is so clearly connected to the sounds he pioneered two decades ago. But no one believes more deeply than Kevin Shields in the expressive power of the processed guitar, and the music here turns out to be more about feeling than style. 

“She Found Now” is an opener of daring subtlety, a ballad in the vein of “Sometimes” that consists mostly of deep strumming and Shields’ singing in a tone near a whisper. There’s a bit of percussion, a few more layers of distortion, but no announcement of anything earth-shattering or even particularly different. It’s My Bloody Valentine making the kind of noises they invented and perfected. As the chords cycle through in the following “Only Tomorrow”, Shields sets up a situation where the repetition and familiarity lulls you into a kind of trance and small gestures hit with great force. On “Only Tomorrow” that spine-tingling moment is a dead simple screeching high-end refrain that repeats toward the end, while on the following “Who Sees You”, it’s a section halfway through where a rush of trebly chords coats the entire song in another layer of textured fuzz. When it comes to Shields and guitars, the small details do a tremendous amount of work. 

The second trio of songs feature the lead vocals of My Bloody Valentine singer/guitarist Bilinda Butcher. The push and pull of her singing next to Shields’ is, along with the wavy “glide guitar” effect, My Bloody Valentine’s other defining characteristic. Their voices are the essence of the the band’s strangely androgynous and non-specific sensuality. “Is This and Yes” is just Butcher’s voice and an unusual organ pattern that hangs in space at the end of the progression and never resolves itself; “New You” is the only track on the record that sounds even remotely like a single, and it shows that Shields’ melodic impulses have not left him.  

In another sense, “New You” points out how much has changed since MBV last released a full-length. In 1991, they were still a pop band, the kind that made videos and appeared on magazine covers and were on a fashionable record label. As such, there was at least some pressure for them to fit in, for their music to have context in the popular music landscape. So they released singles and probably hoped they’d become hits. Even if “Soon” had, as Brian Eno stated at the time, set a “new standard,” that didn’t change that fact that it was in fact still pop. But those days are gone. My Bloody Valentine fit in exactly nowhere and the commercial expectations of a release like mbv are minimal. Whatever the cause, mbv is the weirdest album My Bloody Valentine have made by some margin. Some of the record’s otherworldly quality is up to frequency range. There’s very little on this album in the treble range but there’s endless detail in the bass and mid, which makes the record feel more closed in and insular. But some of it is in the arc of the record. 

Through the 1990s Kevin Shields often talked about jungle, what it meant to him, and how some of the ideas behind it were making their way into a new My Bloody Valentine album. He was not alone in this, but mixing drum’n’bass’ whooshing walls of percussion with oceanic shoegaze seemed a natural pairing (it was so natural, in fact, that artists like Third Eye Foundation beat Shields to the punch). Whether or not the final three songs on mbv are related to Shields’ experiments of that time, on mbv, where Shields presumably had time to make the drum parts he wanted, it’s clear that he doesn’t really hear percussion the way most of us do. Drums are mostly distant, often muddy, serving as an underpinning or textural contrast to the guitar instead of driving the rhythm on their own. In this sense they mirror the 8-bit snatches of sound caught by crude samplers in the 90s. But since Isn’t Anything, drums have been down on the list of concerns for MBV, which is one way the final third is so surprising and ultimately powerful. 

“In Another Way”, another Butcher lead, begins to tilt the balance between noise and melodic beauty as the tempo increases, and by the following instrumental “Nothing Is” the mood has changed considerably. A track of heavy bass drums and pounding guitar, it feels militaristic and even a touch grim, with just faint glimmers of beauty inside the barrage. And then by the final “Wonder 2” the album has become something else. This is MBV’s version of an album-closing “L.A. Blues”-like Stooges freak-out, where they stop worrying about structure and fill every inch of tape with noise. The heavy flanging evokes choppers buzzing overhead, and somehow, through it all, there are wispy voices, buried and being shoved around by the din. It’s a disquieting end. Where Loveless, despite its complexity, sounded as natural as breathing, mbv sounds like the product of great effort, of meticulous work to get every sound in place. And that exertion is especially apparent in the final third, as Shields tries and ultimately succeeds in taking the project somewhere it’s never gone. All this work gives mbv its own quality, simultaneously intimate and detached. 

Like its predecessor, mbv feels like an album in part about love, but it approaches the grandest of human emotions from an unusual angle. Kurt Cobain, another iconic songwriter of the 1990s who never got a chance to grow old and figure out how to maintain his creativity in the wake of game-changing masterpieces, had a song called “Aneurysm” and it had a refrain that went, “Love you so much, makes me sick.” That’s how My Bloody Valentine’s deeply destabilizing queasiness, amplified here to a frightening degree, has always struck me: There’s a rush of feeling inside their music so intense it creates a kind of paralysis. Music swirls and moves in and out of phase, voices float by, half memory and half anticipation, and you’re never quite sure how all the parts fit together. You get lost in it, and if you’re wired a certain way that mixture of desire and confusion is easy to map on to the wider world. For 22 years, the only way to get there was through Loveless and its associated EPs; now there’s another path, one many of us never expected to find. That it’s this successful in spite of it all is something we never had a right to expect.”