Written by John Wall, Bulls Radio Contributor
Over time, this album seems to have become somewhat of the odd-one-out amongst My Bloody Valentine’s evolving discography. Even from the very first few beats and distortion of the “You Made Me Realise” EP, it’s been clear that behind all the production wizardry and perfection, My Bloody Valentine has always had pop sensibilities. The synth melody on “When You Sleep,: or the vocal performance on “Drive it All Over Me,” are just a couple examples of incredibly catchy songwriting, and are often the first songs that will really click with a person.
This album is different. This album is an evolution of the formula. Loveless was a perfection of the ideas on Isn’t Anything. This album is radically different in a structural way. The production is a natural extension of what was happening on loveless, but the band’s intentions seem different on this album. From the very first song, a wave of distorted guitars hit the listener. Things are mellow. The chord progression is wandering. The vocals are sparse and floaty. There isn’t any catchy lead melody, or any kind of hook. There is nothing to grasp onto. The listener is just left floating to absorb the magical production and effects that have enchanted these guitars. It’s the most soothing My Bloody Valentine have ever felt. Until about two minutes in, we start to build to something. A repeated bending of sound. It bleeds out and fades back into the abyss of the wandering chords. Until another two minutes of peace pass, and the building begins again, growing over the hums of the vocals, and then fades out into distortion again.
This first track, “She Found Now,” has no semblance of catchiness to it. There’s nothing for a first time listener to really latch onto. It’s not like any other My Bloody Valentine record we’ve heard before. Then “Only Tomorrow” kicks in, and it’s back to the kind of band we are used to. “Who Sees You” is another track that is easy to latch onto, that ends in this sick whirlwind of a guitar solo that delivers the track into silence. These two tracks kinda remind us of Loveless. But, it’s still in the back of our minds what the first track was even trying to do.
But, the following track is another change up. “Is This and Yes” is a synthy ambient space tune with an almost tribal rhythm to it. Once again, the listener is left back into the head space of the first track, with nothing around to grasp onto. Now, even the distortion that seemed to never leave us, is suddenly gone. This maybe could have landed as an interlude on loveless, but not at five minutes long. The song seemingly makes no sense in the context of the previous two. The album then moves on to “If I Am,” which provides an evolution to the Loveless sound with an interesting “wah” effect on the guitars. The album seems to be jerking the listener back and forth. Sometimes it’s the band we know and love, other times it seems as if we are listening to an ambient piece.
Then “New You” hits. The synth lead is so compellingly catchy. The bass is so head bopping-ly groovy. The cute vocals remain soothing and comforting. For just a few minutes, all seems right. Everything is okay. My Bloody Valentine can certainly write pop songs. But why don’t they.
Suddenly the song is over. The listener is stricken with noisy bending guitars. A chaotic drum beat starts up. A hurricane of distortion joins in. The pop sensibilities crumble away. There is a synth lead, but it’s not catchy, it’s wandering confusedly. This song leads us into “Nothing Is,” which is the opposite of “New You,” A looped guitar and drum beats away at our eardrums incessantly. We get locked into a hypnotic groove for what seems like a long three minutes. And as we realize the downward spiral the album has suddenly taken in tone, the song builds louder and louder, and delivers us to the final destination.
“Wonder 2” is a masterpiece. I don’t enjoy listening to it. This is the endpoint of that spiral. A rhythm of wind grows softer and louder as if it’s travelling chaotically around us. A frenetic beat hits, and a synth begins to beat away in alarm. This is the end. Kevin wails over the chaos. This hell drives away for close to six minutes, and then echoes away as if we are teleported out of this album.
Now why is this album this way. If I were looking for another Loveless, I probably wouldn’t like close to half of this album. But this album has different intentions. From the first song, the band forces us to consider what is most important about this band: it’s atmosphere and production of noise. The atmosphere on this album is amazing, and is like none I’ve ever heard before. The way it lulls me into false senses of security, and tricks me into chaos. Never in one album have I gone from feelings of such peace to such despair. This album succeeds in providing the listener with actual emotions based on atmosphere alone. I seriously have no idea what any of the lyrics are on this album, but I’ve already imagined tons of different stories that could be applied to this journey of an album. In this way, it’s more artistic than any other album this band has released.
It’s obvious from “New You,” that My Bloody Valentine could have easily made a catchy and easy Loveless follow up, but rather than make things easy for themselves, they chose to truly push themselves as artists. They chose not to rely on hooks, but rather on what has always been the most rewarding aspects of their albums, again, the atmosphere and production. This album doubles down on those strengths, and I believe, succeeds enormously because of it. Of course, this album will never have the impact or influence that Loveless contained in the year of 1991, but this album isn’t looking to be foundational. It’s looking to experiment with the ideas and preconceptions we have for this band. It’s a boundary breaking masterpiece, that I believe will be appreciated more in years to come.