A classic album should be defined by its ability to feel magical. You can read the liner notes, you can know every single instrument, producer, studio and artist involved in the project, yet there’s still an uncanny nature to every second of the record. At a young age, it’s something you can’t put your finger on; as you get older, it becomes a vivid emotional attachment that swallows you whole and transports you back to the first time you felt the magic.
Miraculously, on Feb. 2, a new album appeared from a band that has never stopped short of sonic sorcery. After becoming the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter and essentially breaking the Internet (403 errors, anyone?), fans listened to “m b v,” the nine-track third LP from My Bloody Valentine, the seminal shoegaze band that brought us “Loveless” and “Isn’t Anything.”
And from the opening strums of Kevin Shield’s tremolo guitar, “m b v” is absolutely a My Bloody Valentine record. For a band that deserves to coax beauty from an already established sound, Shields and company have truly returned. The album is a worthy successor to their 1991 album, “Loveless,” and delightfully decenters one of the world’s most influential bands.
“She Found Now,” the heavenly opener, whispers indecisive sentiments while rumbling fuzz builds around a loop of bass. It’s the most immediate and recognizable sound of “m b v,” representing the mystic beauty that has made My Bloody Valentine a group to emulate.
“Only Tomorrow,” then, is the contemporary translation, where Bilinda Butcher’s vocals glow at the center of a noisy web of melodic guitar climaxes. After an upward-rising UFO dissipates, the vocals fade out to reveal the band’s most life-affirming, instrumental passage. Elsewhere, the group deviates from the traditional beauty of the initial tracks. “Is This And Yes” cuts through the fog as Butcher coos softly over layered organs and soft drums. Compared to the heaviness of “Loveless,” “m b v” achieves extraordinary pacing due to sparse songs like this one.
The deeper cuts from the album experiment with sounds that Shields has hinted at for years. Take “New You” for example — it’s at once the group’s most immediate pop song and it’s weirdest departure, where faint traces of mid-90s drum and bass are counteracted by Butcher’s newly lucid vocals. If there was any indication that this album would throw us for a loop, it should be the fact that this sun-soaked track was “Rough Song” at the group’s first show of 2013.
“In Another Way” is an easy standout in its sheer complexity. It’s a multi-part cycle that travels from downcast uncertainty in Butcher’s oscillating swoon to a triumphant and glowing instrumental refrain. Bands like Sleigh Bells and Boris are challenged and obliterated here through towering guitar sirens and rainbow synths that shift between doubt and confidence through Shield’s sonic playfulness.
“m b v” closes with the staggering new monolith “Wonder 2.” As a disorienting field recording of a plane taking off and landing simultaneously roars, Shields sings through a tube and summons guitars that gyrate the track back and forth between harmony and confrontation while frail drums scurry along in fear of what’s chasing them. “Wonder 2” continues the group’s tradition of concluding with a hint towards what the future may contain; however, after a twenty two year wait for a “Loveless” follow-up, is it even reasonable to expect a fourth album?
Two decades of anticipatory tension should lift in lieu of this uncertainty, as fans of My Bloody Valentine have just been given the ultimate gift. “m b v” is so much more than an afterthought — it’s the third immaculately strange LP from a tirelessly thoughtful band that has changed modern rock.