The new My Bloody Valentine album

23:28, Feb 04 2013

I mentioned the new My Bloody Valentine album with yesterday's post. But rather than share my thoughts on it so soon the new album has provided context for Jeremy Taylor's fan-tale. You know him as The Omnivore but today (once again) he's taking over Blog On The Tracks you'll all be pleased to know.

Twenty two years is a bloody long time. More than half of my lifetime.

And that's how long it has been since My Bloody Valentine released an album. A lot has changed in the intervening couple of decades - in both music and life. So - what right do we possibly have to expect a follow up to the massively critically acclaimed and influential Loveless?

And yet, after MBV chief songwriter/sonic mastermind Kevin Shields hinted before Christmas that they were mastering new music, on Sunday the group announced that the new album, titled, somewhat obviously m b v, was available to order - pay now for instant download, CD and LP to follow on February 22. It was a no-brainer - I got my credit card out.

I mean, their two albums proper have meant so much to me, that the prospect of another album, even this late in the piece, is still a very appetising proposition.

I first heard the band in the late 80s, when visiting my buddy Steve Birss (who later played drums in my band Cinematic) at Echo Records in Christchurch, on my school holidays. The Smiths had split up, and after dalliances with post-Smiths indie fodder like The Wonderstuff and The Primitives, I was looking for something new. It was all just alright - it wasn't The Smiths, though.


One day Steve slipped me the You Made Me Realise 5 track EP. The mighty title track was like the pummeling US indie rock of Sonic Youth and Husker Du fused with the jingle-jangle of the shambling British indie of The Pastels, The Vaselines and the C86 compilation. It had a twenty second blast of noise after the second chorus (they would later draw it out live for as long as half an hour, and refer to as "the holocaust"), and sounded like nothing much else at the time. And, amazingly, the other four tracks on the EP were similarly awesome - the churning Slow, wistful Thorn, darkly beautiful Cigarette In Your Bed, and pretty, deceptive Drive It All Over Me.

They followed this with the Feed Me With Your Kiss EP, and then the album Isn't Anything - when I first got it home and played it, I thought the stereo was broken, so odd and alien were its sonic landscapes. This was, almost literally, rock music with a broken back. It perfectly balanced the masculine and feminine - Shields shared the vocals with his then-girlfriend Bilinda Jane Butcher, their bassist was a jackbooted storm trooper named Debbie Googe, and their frenetic drummer Colm O'Ciosoig. They possessed an almost perfect yin-yang, and it was still subtly and seductively melodic. The cover art was perfectly washed out and vague - it looked like they sounded. And their name perfectly suited their sound.

Shields had pioneered a guitar style that involved playing Fender Jaguar and Jazzmaster guitars while holding the tremolo arm, which, when augmented with distortion and backwards reverb created their signature woozy, drifting in and out of tune sound.

The music they were to make next was, if anything, even more extraordinary. The Glider EP was their next release, and both the grinding title track and dancefloor-informed (post Acid House) nominal single Soon were both actually, and virtually, instrumental.

It was at about this time that I did something I have done surprisingly rarely in my life as a music obsessive - I wrote to the band and told them how much I loved their music - how much it meant to me out here in this far-flung colony. Remarkably, I got a response - a four page letter answering all my stupid questions, and also, in response to my enquiry about their earlier EPs (Cramps influenced, and with a different singer), a cassette tape with them all dutifully recorded and the song titles written out by hand. Amazing. The sort of thing that blows you away as a spotty teenaged indie kid, and that seems all the more amazing looking back.

This was followed by the magnificent, billowing Tremelo EP, with the lead track To Here Knows When a taster for their forthcoming album.

When the album finally emerged, reportedly massively over budget, everyone declared it to be a work of unmitigated genius, a masterpiece, a game changer. Funnily enough, I found it less remarkable than the music on the EPs - it seemed more conventional, if still densely melodic. It seemed as though everyone wanted it to be genius, but I just thought it was very good - I still prefer the earlier album, truth be told - better tunes, more unusual textures.

And then - nothing much. For ages. They never outright broke up - they just didn't do anything. Shields was roped into the indie supergroup that Primal Scream had become (along with Mani from The Stone Roses), and drummer O'Ciosoig formed a group with Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star called The Warm Inventions.

When I moved to London (claim the birthright, etc) in 1998, one evening I found myself in a pub in North London with some friends. I was standing at the bar, getting my round in, when I was aware of someone to my left. Turning, I realised that it was, in fact, Kevin Shields. 

"Oh my God - you're Kevin Shields!" I blurted out.

"Um, yup" he replied, nervously, pre-empting a huge, gushing fanboy moment in which I declared him to be "our generation's Brian Wilson" and other embarrassing crap. He looked thoroughly embarrassed. I was being thoroughly embarrassing. I retreated to my friends, and told them I had just made a tit of myself. My buddy Richard, who actually knew Kevin, told me not to worry, that he was a really nice guy, but just a little awkward and shy.

And then he came over and we had a great old chat. He got more comfortable the more we talked. I asked him what he'd been up to - he told me he worked on music all the time, then decided it wasn't very good and dumped it. I felt like saying "let ME hear it - I'LL tell you if you should be dumping it!"

I told him about hearing the Tremolo EP on a cassette, on a walkman, on my bike, and thinking my batteries were running out - he told me when he dropped the master tape at Creation Records, they called him and told him he needed to get a new master - that this one was stretched...

It was a remarkable meeting with a musical hero. He was extremely gracious, and I guess on some level it must be kind of nice to be told that the music you have made has resonated with someone from the other side of the world.

On Sunday our time, an announcement was made that there would be a new My Bloody Valentine album released that night. It seemed like a joke. 22 years. A gap of 22 years. How could it be any good? Would it be new material, or just the stuff Shields had reportedly abandoned, unfinished, after Loveless? Regardless, I was going to buy it.

I have played it half a dozen times now, on headphones, in the car, in the shop (Slow Boat). It is, I am happy to report, in all regards, what it says on the tin - a new MBV album. Woozy guitars - check. Androgynous vocals - you betcha. There are some bracing rhythmic things going on. It is not obvious rock music (no less than Brian Eno once declared Soon to be "the vaguest pop record ever"). Some people seem underwhelmed by it, as though nothing less than a re-reinvention of the wheel would be good enough.

It is not by any means as shockingly new as Isn't Anything had seemed to me, in Timaru, in 1988 - but then, how could it be? Their influence has trickled down through artists as diverse as The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, U2 and Radiohead. They are arguably the most influential band to not sell all that many records since The Velvet Underground.

I suspect that this is indeed the music Shields started working on after Loveless, and abandoned. It sounds a lot like Loveless - the same buried vocals and woozy guitars. The drums sound like samples, and are generally pretty low in the mix. Other than vocals from Bilinda Butcher, I would doubt that the rhythm section have had much involvement.

Some of it sounds a little half-formed, a little under-done. But still - this is new music from a band whose music I have loved for twenty five years, so I'm not going to quibble. Its release doesn't stop the earlier, classic recordings from existing. It's a bit like catching up with an old flame that you haven't seen in many years, and they look...pretty much exactly the same.

And that eighteen year old in me, who received a letter and a cassette tape from his heroes all those years ago is just as pleased as punch that it even exists. If it yields anything near as much enjoyment as those earlier releases, it will have been well worth the wait.

Are you a My Bloody Valentine fan? Have you heard the new MBV album? Your thoughts - a worthy addition to their catalogue, or an underwhelming, late in the piece cash in?

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