Sound — 8
Fans and critics have been waiting twenty-two years now for a follow-up to "Loveless," My Bloody Valentine's 1991 effort, and one of the most highly-acclaimed releases of the 1990s. Lead guitarist and band producer Kevin Shields has garnered the reputation as one of the music industry's most stubborn perfectionists, and after promising fans time and time again that a successor to Loveless would appear one day, it is finally here. The year 2013 has brought the music world "m b v," a peculiar sequel that takes the band in a wholly new direction, but still drenches its tunes in the amorphous ooze and dream-like textures that have become the band's cognizance. The shoegaze genre, pioneered largely by Shields and My Bloody Valentine in the late 1980s, is categorized by ambient drones born of extremely distorted guitar, piano, and hushed vocal lines. Those ideas are present here, as the band members, armed with Fender Jaguars and an array of Boss effect pedals, find themselves exploring the spaces in between chords and pitches, transporting their listeners into a quixotic trance. The record opens with "She Found Now," a minimalist ballad with Shields singing lead, is conservative with guitar strums droning continuously for five minutes. The soft pitter-patter of plain percussion and occasional pitch-bending guitars allow it to achieve sublimity through simplicity. "Only Tomorrow," the next track and arguably the album's highlight, gives Belinda Butcher a turn singing lead vocals. Guitars saturated in distortion discover semitones with each compression and raise of the whammy bar. Butcher's sweet whispers compliment and give fullness to the trance created by guitar and bass. The song is unique in that it achieves a feeling of motion while standing still, perhaps the ultimate goal for a shoegaze track.
Lyrics — 8
While guitars served as an integral portion of instrumentation to My Bloody Valentine, "Loveless" explored their sonic possibilities on nearly every track. Where "m b v" becomes a separate album from "Loveless" is the band's experimentation with new instrumentation. "If I Am" bashes the listener with harsh drums and organs that build a foundation under Butcher's overdubbed harmonies. The song blooms into a call and response of whispers, with noises echoing in the background. At this point, the album teeters between noise and ambience, an intertextual experiment mingling two close but distinct worlds of music with such finesse that one might say this record was honestly worth the wait. The closing bookend of "Nothing Is" and "Wonder 2" showcase musicians continually exploring song structure and breaking from the shoegaze norms critics had associated with them decades prior to this release. The phaser guitar and frantic organ of the concluding "Wonder 2" seem to prepare the listen for a grand finale, but interestingly enough, "Wonder 2" does not end on a definite cadence. It swirls its sonic ideas together in such a way that transforms "m b v" into a complete circle. Set the album on repeat, and the transition back into "She Found Now" feels flawless.
Overall Impression — 8
At times feeling forceful and at other times gentle, "m b v" is a record unlike anything this year has seen so far. Songs feel like they move into one another on an album that does not feel like it has a distinct start or end. "m b v" is perhaps in this sense a circle, unending musical ideas that interject one another. Guitars glide and voices whisper to elevate the listener and move them through its rich drones. Shields has certainly outdone himself this time, not with a "Loveless 2," but with a record that is distinctly its own.