Slowly but surely, something about this “sudden release” business is becoming clear. It won’t be for every artist. Young bands seeking to establish themselves have little to gain from springing new works onto an unsuspecting world. Neither will it work for your journeyman rocker who puts out a similar record to the last one every two years, seemingly untroubled by its sonic proximity to the last one. For artists who have had trouble dealing with the expectations of their audience, however, this might be the best way. Screw the build-up. What is the “build-up” anyway? Isn’t that the bit between the announcement of the release date and the release itself? The bit where we all talk about how much we loved the earlier records and, by doing so, place impossibly high expectations on music we simply haven’t had a chance to get nostalgic about?
Well, why would any artist with an intense following want to put themselves through that? I’m sure Radiohead and David Bowie are managing perfectly well without that sort of hassle. And besides, it’s not even as if it serves the best interests of fans. When Radiohead put out In Rainbows, we dropped everything and we listened in a way we sometimes forget to do. We listened like music fans did in the 1960s when, in real terms, vinyl was three times more expensive than it is now and you would most likely have to go to a friend’s house to listen to, say the latest Van Morrison or Incredible String Band. We concentrated because we knew that everyone else was concentrating. In a funny kind of way, perhaps we need to be shown who’s boss here. Here’s the record. No build-up. No press releases. Take it or leave it. It’s the difference between buying something and being sold something.
It should come as no surprise to note that My Bloody Valentine have opted to take a similar route. Save for a few onstage intimations from Kevin Shields earlier in the week, My Bloody Valentine’s first album since 1991’s Loveless landed approximately six hours before the group’s website formally announced it – at 3am this morning to be precise. Why 22 years? Any artist trying to reconcile the infinite amount of ways an album could sound to the expectations of a waiting world is bound to go into a creative paralysis. I suspect the one thing that has freed up Kevin Shields to follow Loveless is the fact that we stopped waiting for one a long time ago. Certainly, m b v feels like a remarkably unforced affair. In a “blind” taste test, there’s no mistaking what you’re hearing. I wouldn’t have been any more disappointed with moments of pastiche than I was at equivalent moments on, say Tom Waits’ last album. But m b v frequently broaches hitherto uncharted territory. Bilinda Butcher’s diaphanous trilling on Is This And Yes, suspended just below lapping waves of blissful electronic sound feels like one such moment. So, at the very end, does Wonder 2, a wind-ravaged shell of a song sucked dry of all melody save for a high plaintive vocal from Shields.
Elsewhere however, certain preoccupations unite m b v and its 22 year-old predecessor. For Shields’ you suspect, the real excitement happens when music is placed under such intense abuse that it starts to become noise; and conversely when you find a really cool noise and you set about teasing the dormant musical undertones within it. Lest we forget, the genesis of To Here Knows When from Loveless can be traced to a morning in which saw Shields at Old St station, mobile recording device, trying to catch a sonic “sweet spot” between the Northern Line platform and a screeching escalator.
Similar preoccupations abound on m b v. Presumably, the title of Only Tomorrow is a reference to rhythm on which its built – a statelier version of the one that kicks off The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows rhythm. Over the course of six minutes, Shields’ careworn intonations on Only Tomorrow sluggishly negotiate some surprisingly pretty terrain, but even here, the guitars – guitars that sound they’ve been fed through a digital channel at deafening volume – arrive like the cavalry at one and a half minutes. Elsewhere, Shields’ fascination for what happens when sound is corrupted by the vessel that holds it reaches a glorious apex on the psychedelic extrusions of Who Sees You. Again, it’s all about the build – over the rain-lashed clatter of Colm Ó Cíosóig’s drums, the layers of guitar noise that push you towards but never quite over the line into pure dissonance.
Is it fair to ask how it all squares up to the peaks of Isn’t Anything and Loveless? At this stage, I don’t think we can really know. I’m not sure the bright boxy pop simplicity of New You has much to offer, but then I can also see that it’s a pretty effective palate cleanser for the ascending jackhammer funk of In Another Way. By the same token, it’s an incredible surprise to report that m b v sounds unmistakeably like a follow-up to Loveless. And given that no other group in the past 22 years has been able to come up with one of those, that alone is cause for celebration.