My Bloody Valentine's mbv Track By Track By Ned Raggett
, February 4th, 2013 04:36
Ned Raggett stays up all night hitting refresh to bring you his perspective on mbv... i.e. it sounds like being hit on the head with a shovel and falling into a well half filled with honey
Well, that took a while. And that was just the website. Thanks, tip your waitstaff.
Thing is, even after eight million Twitter jokes, meme GIFs, Facebook posts and more within the space of a few hours, even when I finally had completed an order and the download was arriving, some part of me still wasn't quite believing it. A couple of people had thought that maybe it was a hack and a joke, and while I'd said "They can't have done that to both the Facebook site and the actual webpage," I half thought "Well... maybe they could."
I can't say I'm glad it took this long but I was thankful that the person I was who had written back on my old webpage in 1997 something like "HURRY UP AND RELEASE THE DAMN ALBUM KEVIN" was long past. Listening to the album patiently and with no sense of expectations beyond trying to judge it on its own terms turned out to be rather freeing and pleasant. I pretty much felt I was never going to have that same first-time-hearing-'Soon' moment and I wasn't looking for it. That probably explains why I enjoyed it so much. I can sense the roots, the continuities and the later parallels from other acts. There's next to nothing that caused me a sense of utterly alien surprise and a lot of that has to do with how long I've been listening to things in general as much as My Bloody Valentine in specific. Yet at the heart of it all, m b v has something different, knotted and twisted.
Then I went to dinner with some friends and came back and gave a second listen, and here's my take on it all, track by track - with the hopes that the third listens and beyond will be different again.
'she found now' - I didn't expect the album to start with an equivalent of 'Sometimes', I admit, but that's what that feeling of heavy guitar shading calls to mind, only here with a bit of quick, crisper guitar parts in contrast rather than a soothing melody and a clearer lyric. It's not momentous and that's suitable, but it does feel like a welcome back where all of a sudden familiar parts are at play without actually sounding like any exact combination beforehand. The further soloing snaking in part way through isn't even that so much as an extra element, all creating a feeling of decentered free-floating warmth. If one of the chief complaints some give to Shields and his work is lack of specificity, lyrical and musical, in favor of an all-encompassing disorientation, then this is evidence for that. But it's not a complaint.
'only tomorrow' - And from Kevin Shields to Bilinda Butcher. Her role remains something terribly underrated, by yours truly for a start but not the end; the band would not be the band without the exact lineup we know (which, for all the interruption in activity, has remained near constant for almost three decades after the early departure of David Conway). When what sounds like her vocal suddenly twists into a rising swoop that shudders and disappears, followed by an extended guitar part that steps and skips rather than chugs, light on its feet, it's a treat - and the more so when the same swoop returns her to the mix, then again takes her away. For all that the pace of the song is something that seems to lumber, it's again shaped in the overall gauze that you hear guitars clang and react, cutting across each other while the warmth remains. Yet while that pace doesn't change, it seems an even slower swirl as it goes, a careful exhaling.
'who sees you' - Colm O'Coisoig has a solo drum moment at the start, and once again a feeling of callback because 'Only Shallow' almost started the same way. But the feeling is even hazier and slower here - and here's where a little chin-scratching begins, because it feels like an extension of 'only tomorrow' rather than a distinct new song, though with Kevin doing the singing. If the insular nature of Loveless remains one of its calling cards, at the same time there was variety right from the start of its three songs, making m b v initially seem too uniform, perhaps almost too much of a pastiche. Yet the guitar continues to slow and sprawl woozily, the soloing a downbeat surge that strains gleefully through molasses, and while the fact of it is again unsurprising, the feel, however familiar, thrills. The shock of the new is far from present, the thrill of reacting to that kind of sculpting of feedback and texture remains - and when the soloing at the end really ramps up into something trebly and reactive, something clicks just a little more, right down to the sudden ending.
'is this and yes' - Suddenly - finally? - there's a full change. Just keyboards and distant drums, on the face of it, though who knows what is creating all those tones in a gentle serene space-pop fashion. It's no short interstitial moment either, there's nothing like that on here. Bilinda takes the lead again, voice and instrumental tones often blending as she softly but keenly delivers whatever the words might be. At three minutes her vocals begin to double, a little moment of shock that cycles back a couple of times, all while the instruments continue in their previous course, though maybe with a few more meditative high tones. More than a few comments elsewhere talked up post-rock, Stereolab... perhaps Broadcast if you like. But in its own path, its own place.
'if i am' - Bilinda on lead again, and a return to a full arrangement, but this time building off of the song before it rather than simply continuing it. Wah-wah guitar as gauzy pulse behind layers of strums, more percussion moments from Colm appearing at points too. For an album centrepiece, five of nine songs in, it's a combination of serenity - voices suddenly approaching a late sixties Beach Boys feeling more than before, or at least more than immediately apparent than earlier - with soft tension and roiling, bubbling activity. All this and it suddenly ends on a last shuffle of drums and what sounds like a quick rewind.
'new you' - If there was an implied funk beforehand, all of a sudden Deb Googe's bass really brings it to the fore here, standing out more clearly than earlier, at least it seems - and when it all strips down to Colm's drums at a minute in and at points thereafter, that reminder that Kevin had taken in hip-hop by the late 80s recurs, even if there's now a huge distance between past and present in that realm. Bilinda's singing is clear if soft, the guitar is a cheerful, chugging sprightliness, tremolo in full effect as is always perfectly appropriate. There are no cotton candy feelings here, it's meant to be - contextually, at least - wired and tight. A quick drum fill from Colm at one point just raises a smile, it feels engaging.
'in another way' - Saxophone? Screeching tones? Rumbling drums? There really hasn't been sonic violence at all and then suddenly here it is in a rough mess, not a sprawling one - again, Colm keeps things locked down on that front, however the drums sound - but not a polite one either. Another Bilinda lead, sudden shifts in guitar tone and style, drums suddenly galloping a bit and then not appearing to, everything just a little out of phase with everything else or seeming to be. Strange to say, given some random references and recalls about Big Country I'd heard this weekend, hearing what almost sounded like a guitar/bagpipe moment here and there was a touch bemusing as well. More than some of the songs, the basic arrangement repeats itself for a while as the song goes, but again, no complaints, at least if you're me.
'nothing is' - Now things fire up from the start and quickly stomp along, a joyous kick in the quick drumming and focused skittering, live-wire riffing, almost like it's MBV out on the range. MBV goes cowpunk, there's an idea, and I've heard stranger. Even more enjoyable, it just doesn't stop having started up. Almost four minutes of it, no overt variation, no vocals, it just is happily its own bit of send-it-up-and-along exultance. As a penultimate track it's a lovely touch, a way to herald the end of it all - at least for now.
'wonder 2' - Said end. It starts, and continues, with a noise that sounds a bit like one of those planes a friend of mine said MBV live reminded him of 1992: like a sky filled with nothing but jet planes over and over. I presume it's coincidence. Kevin once more on vocals and it all sounds just strange enough, to the point where I have to stop and restart it just so I can think a little more cohesively about it. It's still got something of that understated focus that's always at the heart of practically every MBV song - there's never not a core melody, however simple or sublimated. But add in the rising/falling jet noise, back and forth guitar parts like a sine wave, endless rising arrangements, and it's down to just that psuedo-jet noise, quick percussion that suddenly makes me wonder if this is the only ghost of that supposed jungle-friendly work they'd been doing in 1994 or so, then a stop, a bit of fade and... that's it.
On a second listen, even more than the first, I wouldn't be surprised if this was something done just in the past year rather than over any amount of time beforehand. It could just be a marker of a stage of creation, a outlying signpost to a heck of a lot more, or given everything we know or want to imagine about MBV and Shields in particular it could well be the end result of a long, long process.
But I'm happy with it. Not bowled over, not sent to another dimension, not stopped in my tracks. But I didn't want to be, not now. Perhaps I was lucky - in chasing that similar hit I got from MBV and always wanted where I could find it, maybe I burned out over the years and refocused, maybe I found what I wanted in all kinds of music and a lot more. I don't need the neurons scrambled so long as there would be something there I could enjoy and get my teeth into a bit. And so it proves.
Anyway next time... run some stress tests first. And get more server space.