On m b v Vs. Loveless
It's impossible to listen to m b v without the weight of years of expectations pressing down on it. Keep in mind, other bands have taken a long time to make albums, but usually it's because they completely dissolved or had legal troubles that prevented them from releasing music. In the case of My Bloody Valentine, however, we'd been promised a follow-up to 1991's Loveless since at least 1993, and kept on being promised one, even after most of the band members left around 1997. Compounding this issue of how long it took is that m b v isn't just one of those albums that took forever to be released...it's also the follow-up to Loveless, widely regarded as one of the best albums ever made, every bit as influential and unique sounding today as it ever was. Even setting aside the context of history and expectations, m b v is neither the next step after Loveless, nor is it in the same league as Loveless in terms of influence and uniqueness.
On m b v As 'The Next Album From My Bloody Valentine'
I don't want this to turn into a critique of m b v which compares it to Loveless and finds it wanting in every regard. Not to mention, I don't mean to praise Loveless as though it's a flawless gem that makes everything else irrelevant. So while you can't really improve on Loveless, you can still do a lot of interesting things with the ideas and sounds therein...and that's basically what m b v is. Perhaps the easiest way to get past the years of waiting and lofty expectations is to think of m b v as 'the next album from My Bloody Valentine', and not as 'the sequel to Loveless.' That album will always be the gold standard of this kind of music, so take it as a sign of how good m b v is that I like it better than Isn't Anything and every other shoegazer album I've heard.
On How m b v Differs From Loveless
m b v lacks the cohesive, hypnotic flow of that 1991 classic and focuses more on self-contained sonic worlds. The variety of sounds is more akin to Isn't Anything and the recently released EP's 1988-1991. On the first few listens you'll probably be like me and peg m b v as sounding like a less memorable, less overtly melodic take on Loveless. The best way I can think to explain it is that m b v is one of those albums that slightly disappoints until you get over your expectations and let it grow on you. I'm reminded of Grizzly Bear's Shields, an album that did nothing to dispel the notion that Veckatimest is their best work but one that nonetheless grew on me because, not in spite of, it being less inviting and immediate. I don't think of m b v or Shields as challenging, per se, more that they are concerned with overall sound and feel rather than songwriting and genre innovation. Thus, in spite of its density and consistency of sound Loveless is a more memorable experience while m b v is, in some ways, more satisfying because it requires some patience and focus. Like Shields, it's more dreamy, hypnotic, atmospheric, less obviously structured than the band's previous work.
On m b v As Great And Allowing Yourself To 'Hear' It
Yes, I side with the camp who thinks that m b v is a great album. I'm not sure if it was “worth the wait”, since the way it ended up coming out felt so arbitrary and surreal, and I had long since given up on any new My Bloody Valentine music. Anyway, m b v may pale in comparison to the Loveless II I always heard in my head—for me, it would've been a mix between Loveless and the ambient techno of Boards Of Canada—but this is a fantastic record by any point of comparison aside from Loveless. If m b v had been released by another band, they'd have been praised to the heavens and derided in equal measure for using Loveless as a blueprint and doing something almost as good. As it stands, we finally got a new album from My Bloody Valentine and it's really damn good if you allow yourself to hear it for what it is. I suspect most of the people who find m b v disappointing or underwhelming are stuck in the mindset of wanting it to be something it's not.
On m b v As Early Birthday Gift To Me/On Wrinkles New & Old
I turned 29 in mid-February. Discovering the new wrinkles in My Bloody Valentine's sound, and how Kevin Shields folds them expertly into the established aesthetic, is one of the best early birthday gifts I've ever gotten. The clearest and most effective addition is the drum-n-bass beats on album closer 'Wonder 2', though the Stereolab influence other reviewers have spotted on 'Is This And Yes' is a close runner-up. Even when the band just kind of sounds like Loveless, as on 'In Another Way', with its booming drum loops and guitars that are simultaneously noisy and hypnotic, they do it better than anyone else. So: m b v is like Loveless but it isn't Loveless.
On m b v Vs. Loveless (Again)
No one can ever top Loveless. It's a perfect example of its genre yet is more unique and 'outside' of genre labels than anything else in said genre. It's like Bitches Brew; that album is jazz fusion, yet it's utterly unique and 'outside' of jazz fusion, too. You could listen to Loveless forever and never suss out where some of the sounds came from, or how all the elements came into place just so such that what would otherwise have been a great album became a timeless masterpiece. Loveless will always be a mystery you can't quite figure out, and that's part of its appeal and greatness. m b v is still a bit mysterious, but only in the way that most shoegazer albums are with their psychedelic guitar effects, vocals buried in the mix, and focus on dense sound over traditional loud/quiet/loud rock songwriting. So while you can “solve” m b v—that's a jet plane sample buried in 'Wonder 2' producing that flanger effect, right?— you'll still want to keep listening to it because it's god damn good....
...and who knows how long we'll have to wait for the follow-up.