It’s finally here. Twenty-two years, dozens of rumors, and thousands of clamoring fans later, My Bloody Valentine, one of the most important musical groups of the past two decades, has released its third studio album, simply titled mbv. It was a day that most people thought would never arrive. Guitarist, vocalist, and mad genius Kevin Shields had all but disappeared from the recording studio with the exception of a few solid tracks for the “Lost In Translation” soundtrack. But late Saturday night, the band set the Internet ablaze by quietly uploading the album to their website. mbv has been in the works longer than most current college students have been alive, so, naturally, expectations were extremely high. Yet it’s a stunning piece of work, building off of previous albums while still moving forward with its sound and reasserting My Bloody Valentine as a massively talented group.
Really, mbv couldn’t be a more apt title. It’s a nine-track distillation of everything that the band has done, an album that trickles down through multiple listens to reveal its true inner beauty. As in the group’s previous work, every track is meticulously crafted. Layers of distortion, overdrive, and reverb mesh with vocals from both Kevin Shields and vocalist Belinda Butcher, whose saccharine voice is a perfect complement to Shields’ rougher tones.
But mbv is not Loveless 2.0. Rather, mbv feels more spacious, an entity all its own. Where Isn’t Anything crunched, and Loveless rocked and shimmered; mbv breathes. Opener “she found now” sets the tone for the rest of the album with Shields’ heavy, flange-dominant guitar riffs filling—and expanding—the sonic landscape, his vocals just barely overcoming the power of his guitar. “only tomorrow,” the album’s highlight, uses distortion to build a kind of wall of sound which Butcher’s airy vocals complement perfectly. “is this and yes” trades guitars for beautiful, organ-esque synthesizers, using Butcher’s coo as an instrument all their own to build an ethereal drone. “if i am,” while just as powerful and all-encompassing, is a sweeter track, with Shields swirling his guitar riffs with Butcher’s poppy vocals in a beautiful mess of reverb and echo. “wonder 2” crescendos into a fascinating cloud of reverb, aided by a frantic drum track that easily gets lost into the mix. These are tracks to explore, sowing the seeds of their own sonic dimensions on first listen. Each return to the album is more exciting than the one before, as each new journey reveals new ways to listen to this fascinating 47-minute album.
Which isn’t to say that the work is mellow by any means. Shields is still a master of building exciting, overdriven tracks, and mbv is yet another example of this talent. Album highlight “who sees you” is absolutely exhilarating, pushing Shields’ distortion to the max as it tears through the rest of the track. “in another way” uses distortion as a kind of backing track, a siren among waves of crunchy guitar riffs. Even as My Bloody Valentine evolves, their basic formula is still intact and as delightful as ever.
Critics will undoubtedly compare mbv to the rest of My Bloody Valentine’s short catalog. But mbv is its own beast, and it simply isn’t fair to the quality of this band’s work to make those kinds of comparisons. Each new outlet for Shields, Butcher, and company displays a new side of the band, and no side is better than the other. Isn’t Anything, Loveless, and mbv can all be considered innovative amongst the musical landscape in which they were released.
Shields’ brand of innovation may only show up once every 20 years, but if anything, mbv shows how sorely missed his brand of eccentricity is. It’s the kind of unique, powerful vision that has all but died down in the years since Loveless; shoegaze has, for the most part, been adopted by indie rock bands as a mere fraction of their stylistic formula. My Bloody Valentine not only defined the shoegaze genre but immersed itself entirely in its syrupy, chaotic, and beautiful sound. Perhaps mbv’s greatest strength is the band’s assertion of this sonic dominance. It may be clichéd to say that no one sounds quite like My Bloody Valentine, but it’s the truth.
During the beginnings of My Bloody Valentine’s career, critics called shoegaze “the genre that celebrates itself.” With mbv, we can celebrate too.