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Album review: My Bloody Valentine’s mbv

You won’t be able to help but crank up the volume as the Dublin band returns after more than 21 years

  • By Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times
  • Published: 21:00 February 11, 2013
  • Tabloid

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Dear neighbours, Sorry about Sunday morning. It was rude to be listening to music at such a volume so early in the day. If you banged on the door, sent me texts, or cussed at me from across the boulevard, either I ignored you or, more likely, I didn’t hear you. And I definitely can’t hear you now. I can’t stop listening to “Nothing Is.”

Recently, the Irish band My Bloody Valentine released its first record in over 21 years, called “m b v.” It’s the follow-up to an album, “Loveless,” that has filled hearts the world over with its feedback-drenched melodies, sweet but thorny songs that capture a certain kind of beauty and consummated thousands of young guitar lovers’ affections.

All of Sunday morning I wandered within a nine-song sonic temple, freshly unveiled after years of anticipation, lost within the glory of organized, if dizzying, frequencies. Loudly, at your expense, the volume of “She Found Now,” a syrupy, drunken vessel of deep tremolo guitar strums that one can’t truly hear unless all else vanishes, ascended. It couldn’t be prevented. “m b v” dictates volume, and in this amplification rises a shimmering cathedral. Look, it hurt me too. “Nothing Is” damaged my ears, a 3-1/2 minute pounding instrumental that goes absolutely nowhere, and does so with great, joyous force. Can you blame anyone for having to beef up the decibels? How else can you hear the layers way in the back? Why pay good money for a jumbo sound system if you can’t listen to a new MBV record at full volume?

Thank you for not calling the police. There’s a certain kind of locust that only arrives every 17 years; when it does, patient zoologists swarm to study it. When My Bloody Valentine releases a record, a respectable chunk of guitar-loving fans sit in their most comfortable chairs, wrap their ears in their best set of headphones — or turn that dang stereo up — and get (very, very) excited. Sorry.

A whirlwind of rhythm such as “Wonder 2,” which closes “m b v,” can only be heard for the first time once. Dinky desktop computer speakers will not do this justice. We have longed to again experience plane-landing guitars surround singer Bilinda Butcher’s voice. Now we have. Even better is the surprising sound of that gentle tone in a new context: enclosed by cascading organs and keyboards on “Is This and Yes.”

Maybe an explanation will help. My Bloody Valentine — singer/guitarist/founder Kevin Shields, Butcher, drummer Colm o Ciosoig and bassist Debbie Googe — formed in the mid-1980s as a Brit-pop band, one of many excellent artists on the then-thriving Creation Records label. After dropping a string of sweet but forgettable jangle-pop singles, Shields and band released its debut full length, “Isn’t Anything.” It was the sound of a candy factory exploding — a big, sweet bang of noise that hit at the same time as a new batch of indie guitar gods with names like Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr) and Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) were eking unearthly tones from their instruments. You can borrow “Isn’t Anything” if you quit whining about the volume over here.

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Over the next few years Shields helped set the conversation, combining the throbbing rhythms of nascent British electronic dance music with towers of drenched chords.

On EPs “Tremolo” and “Glider,” the band delivered dense bursts of sound while steady, dance-friendly beats, often buried in the mix, encircled the noise with structure. The echoes of these innovations reverberated throughout Britain and America, and have aged to become standard textures of guitar rock.

“Loveless” confirmed a band with a near spiritual understanding of melody, feedback, rhythm -- and love. When My Bloody Valentine toured America with Dinosaur Jr. in the early ’90s many ears, including these two, heard harmonic overtones they’d never experienced live before. It’s like our eardrums had been dosed with MBV LSD. And then, silence — deafening, sporadically tempered by the occasional remix, live performance (Coachella, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium). Shields never retired. But his output decreased. Apparently he was building, because on Saturday night My Bloody Valentine’s third album was released online at the band’s website. The rush of fans overloaded the servers. By Sunday morning the record was available, and nervous fans were faced with a long-simmering wish coming true. So far, a sense of relief has blanketed Twitter. Shields and company have pulled it off. Nine ear-splitting, tremolo-heavy pieces, some, like the opening “She Found Now,” are Rothko-esque in their grand simplicity, others, like “Wonder 2,” are Jackson Pollock messes of tones buried beneath majestic layers of distortion. It’s everything its fans have been pining for the past two decades. Is it more than that? Maybe.

On initial listen, the first three songs sounded like they were recorded a week after “Loveless” dropped — out of the present, living in the past. But the record blossoms 20 minutes in, and over its length presents the sound of a group living in the here and now: rhythms of the moment, and staticky love-anthems like “If I Am” as beautiful as anything the band has ever done. Again, you can borrow it. Or just keep your windows open. It’s not going to get much quieter here until I figure out whether I’ve been blinded by the light and deafened by the frequencies, or truly transported.

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