Early on Saturday, perhaps apropos of nothing, a lamenting soul tweeted that the 1990s was too brief a decade, lasting but three years. Hours later, the band My Bloody Valentine announced online that it would be issuing, through its website, its first LP in more than 20 years, that night.
Which is what happened. The demand for the new album MBV crashed the site’s server, causing consternation among fans and even caused someone to start a petition asking the White House to repair My Bloody Valentine’s website. Eventually the problem was fixed and album-downloading commenced, with the band placing the songs on YouTube for good measure.
And just like that, the nineties, a decade less than complete because one of its signature bands disappeared too soon from the era, revved itself back up again.
MBV follows 1991’s Loveless, the band’s second album and a seminal work in the alt-rock sub genre called “shoegaze,” so named because the musicians tended to look at the floor while they produced a guitar-based sound that was lush, gauzy and gritty – a blissful, pitch-bending, not-all-there sort of noise.
My Bloody Valentine disbanded in the mid-nineties without releasing a follow-up to its neo-psychedelic masterpiece. Kevin Shields, the leader of the Irish quartet, gained mystique over the years, his reputation among fans reaching a Brian Wilson/Syd Barrett level of fascination.
The group reunited in 2007; rumours of a new record have persisted since then. Saturday night was, in the tweeted words of Canadian music writer Stuart Berman, a “Super Bowl for the shoegazers.”
The new record fades in with the fuzz of she found now, a blurry reintroduction of a group emerging from the mist. Second track only tomorrow drones dreamily – it would not be out of place on Loveless.
Who sees you layers serene vocals over guitars that slur and bend – weak batteries in the tape player. Is this and yes is almost an interlude, with a tom-tom beat deep in the mix, and a churchy organ upfront. Cloud-high vocals float over top.
The murky daydream continues with if i am, a spacey hybrid of seventies R&B and eighties pop. New you is the album’s sweetest, lightest track, with the wobble and blur dialled back.
Tumbling drums and an amorphous slur and squall begin in another way, which settles into a march beat, with sugary vocals and an occasional bagpipe-like effect for added tone.
Speculation over the years regarding new material from My Bloody Valentine centered on a jungle-beat sound, which is what we hear on nothing is. It is heavy, relentless and never arrives to an actual song – at best it’s an Achtung Baby demo that belongs on the drawing board. The finale wonder 2 is titled like a prototype, and sounds like one too. Electronic drums skitter at breakneck speed. Jet-engine sonics obscure anything else happening.
Most music fans never outgrow the bands that appealed to them the most, which explains the arena-sized appeal of returning acts such as New Kids on the Block. Unlike a mainstream pop act, the cult-like appeal of My Bloody Valentine has resulted in new bands inspired by its style – thinking of Silversun Pickups or Montreal’s Besnard Lakes – and new fans picked up along the way. One of the newbies commented online about the wait for new material: “I was born in 1991. Literally, my entire life has been leading up to this moment.”
Worshippers of My Bloody Valentine will likely applaud the new MBV (though it is hard to imagine many preferring it to Loveless or its 1988 predecessor Isn’t Anything). A little bit of the 1990s is back though – a love letter (and perhaps closure) for all those who hung around.