Much, much excitement in the music world this weekend over the release of My Bloody Valentine's first release in 22 years. The band uploaded 'mbv' to their website - which promptly crashed - late last night. Here’s our first listen to the album, track by track.
And, lo! It’s the grand opening of that long-awaited, jungle-inspired LP Kevin Shields has been plotting for yonks! Rattlesnake-quick tempos and heavy breakbeats beckon within.
But of course they don’t. Instead, My Bloody Valentine’s first album in two decades starts off, essentially, with a five-minute encapsulation of everything they do so ruddy well: hazy guitars slide in and out of focus to create a soft, dream-like fuzz, augmented by the occasional slither of bell-clear soloing that rings through the haze and Shields’ cotton-candy soft vocals adding to the envelope of sound. A fine, fine ambient balm indeed.
That title inevitably brings to mind the opening track from ‘Loveless’, and we’re in similar sonic territory here, too. Swirls of lazy, buzzing loops and Butcher’s breathless singing take centre-stage for the first 90 seconds or so, until there’s a stonking, soaring swoop of noise and the whole thing shudders off-track. A lazy, landslide guitar break follows, vibrating so violently at times it feels like the whole song might collapse in upon itself, and those whinnying squeals of sound continue to be sporadically fired into the air like toy rockets shooting towards space.
And now another nod to ‘Only Shallow’, in the brief drum solo that Colm O’ Coisoig rifles off to launch proceedings. Shields’ hush-hush tone and the relentless wooziness of the riff makes for a druggy, hypnotic drone, until the reverie is broken halfway through with a gleeful solo that sounds as if it’s fighting to be freed from the surrounding fug.
Crikey: now this is a sea-change from what’s gone before. After being buried in fuzz for so long, ‘Is This And Yes’ begins with nebulous, sky-at-night style keyboards and the softest of drums in the background. Butcher’s voice is at its most ethereal; the whole effect is like being inside a floatation tank in outer space.
Again, the melted textures underpinning the first three songs are ditched for a clearer, cleaner arrangement; if you strained your ears and listened on a loop, you’d probably even be able to decipher some of Butcher’s cooed vocals, which – as any hardened MBV nut will gladly tell you - is something of a rarity. (Whether you’d have any luck wrestling something concrete out of them is another question: here, as ever, pinning down some meaning to Shields and co’s words is akin to plunging your hand into a lucky dip that’s been filled with thick treacle instead of sawdust). Elsewhere, there’s soft, wah-wah guitar and rolling and rumbling percussion, but it’s blissed-out rather than blistering, making for an elegantly placid midway point.
It’s still not entirely clear whether Debbie Googe had a hand in this record – she’s been knocking around with Primal Scream for a few months now, and previously swore blind she hadn’t heard much of ‘mbv’ – but, whomever the band’s bassist now is, this track essentially belongs to them. An almost funky throb drives things forward, there’s tremolo throbs in the background, and woozy rushes of noise are swapped for the tautest, most ‘traditional’ sounding-song thus far; in fact, Butcher’s chipper, whistle-friendly “doo-doos” make the whole thing sound positively pop.
But if you worried that My Bloody Valentine were going soft, then hark at the oncoming storm. An almightily weird skronk of noise hits your earlobes full-throttle, before the riot kicks in: honks of saxophone, fast and furious drums, off-kilter peals of noise that bend this-way-and-that, a star-gazing melody that flickers like a pulsar, an ever-mutating tempo… it’s a calamitous scribble, a discombobulating din, and it sounds bloody fantastic.
Five seconds of eerie silence and then, in media res, we’re confronted with the nastiest sounding song on the album: a harsh, saw-toothed riff splutters into life mid-flow, out of nowhere, and continues in the same vein for the next three-and-a-half-minutes. “Any minute now,” you think. “Any minute now this great, stomping build is going to detonate into something entirely unexpected.” It doesn’t, and it’s all the greater for it: just a no-frills assault on the senses that ratchets up the tension without ever giving you the rush of release, and instead just actively takes the piss out of your expectations instead.
What in the name of fuckery is that noise? A train? A plain? A spaceship hitting warp drive? Whatever it is, it’s the almighty clang that heralds the beginning of the end. My Bloody Valentine sign off with the strangest, most disorientating track of the lot: that swooping, mid-air transportation vibe never totally subsides, to the point where it feels as if you’ve been plonked in some strange airstrip as odd noises fizz and rush past you. Shields’ vocal has an alien, otherworldy kink to it, too, making each passing mutation – strange, high-pitched loops of noise and discordant clangs of guitar – seem progressively odder and odder. And then, suddenly, it winds down: the racket stops, the instrumentation slips away, and it’s that same train/plain/spaceship roar that brings things to a close. Like every My Bloody Valentine album, it won’t make complete sense until you’ve listened two/three/four/repeat ad infinitum times, but it’s hard to think of a more apt closing metaphor: suddenly plunged into silence, with the distant rumble of a journey that’s taken you on weird and wonderful foreign lands still ringing in your ears, as you try to piece together the fragments into one coherent whole. Good luck with that.
Read NME's definitive verdict on 'mbv' in this week's magazine