To Here Knows When: mbv and MBV by Andrew Gunn
Two things I never thought would happen:
1) I'd get to see seminal shoegazing quartet My Bloody Valentine in concert;
2) I'd be able to listen to a new MBV album on something called “YouTube” whilst remembering the above-mentioned concert.
Glasgow Barrowlands, 2 July 2008. The gig was amazing, and almost made up for me being too unborn to ever see The Velvet Underground. Feed Me With Your Kiss is a personal favourite, but of course everybody was waiting for the legendary You Made Me Realise. On Loveless it’s an album track with an unremarkable sonic interlude. Live, it’s a fearful, very very loud sustained electronic noise known not unreasonably as the “holocaust section”.
More than 15 years after the band stopped making albums, my brother (old enough to see them the first time around) still spoke of this epic cacophony and perhaps I didn’t grasp its magnitude, thinking it was a rite of passage I’d never have to endure.
MBV at the Barrowlands was the only time I’ve experienced suspense at a gig, not counting two hours of wondering whether Mark E. Smith will/won’t make it on stage to front his latest iteration of The Fall. I’d seen Nine Inch Nails with some of the same people, and here we were accepting free earplugs from staff who seemed genuinely concerned with our wellbeing. The show, when it started, was fucking loud and extremely enjoyable, but the piercing green/red/blue lights occasionally picked out a furtive glance, a long-haired long-jacketed alt.rock fan adjusting his earplug, a punky student adding cotton wool reinforcements.
Loud piled on top of loud as You Made Me Realise began, and the anticipation surged through us all for, I guess, the three or four minutes of normal song until the musicians hit the magic chord and just kept that fucker going and going and going and going and going. It took a moment for the crowd to adjust—Jesus Christ, this is really it, this is the whole hypnotic universe until Kevin Shields decides it’s time to get on with the fucking song. We adapted, we waited, we marvelled, we let it wash over us.
Or not—my compatriots Peter and Dave gave up after twelve minutes, and a few others sidled out of the hall with them.
I didn’t move. I decided to stare into the open face of ampitude for as long as it took. No earplugs for me, a decision that seemed equal parts brave and stupid at the time but was later proven equal parts stupid and retarded. For three weeks I was unable to hear anybody below the age of puberty.
When the band slipped smoothly into the song’s next chord like it was no big deal, my brother’s mate had clocked the holocaust section at twenty-six minutes. He was not impressed, saying the sound was no different than if some roadies had hauled a jet engine on stage and fired it up. I countered that it was impressive for four musicians to accurately reproduce the sound of a jet engine, and to have done so at gigs since 1991.
At any rate, it was a rocking show that will quite literally stay with me for the rest of my life, in the form of a high frequency accompaniment to all sound.
Listening to MBV at home doesn’t quite match the live experience. But it does dial back the aural bombardment and give you time to consider the band’s genius for making a gliding guitar sound like the duet of two lost and feverish human souls. An eloquent description of their music surely requires nautical or meteorological words like tide, surf, squall, cyclone, humid, downburst. For a sound so reliant on technology, it’s always organic.
mbv is probably on a par with Isn’t Anything and a step back from the sonic nexus of Loveless, and the best thing about it is simply hearing the band playing some new songs. Some reviews have praised mbv’s modernity but to my ear it’s timeless, just like its predecessors.
The opening tracks are classic My Bloody Valentine, then Is This and Yes and If I Am take you for a 4am drink in some woozy hotel nightclub with the lights a shade too bright. Outside for some fresh air: New You swaggers down an empty street and is perhaps the most addictive track on the album. Nothing Is is basically an urgent three and a half minute sprint of awesomeness, reminding you that the experience is nearly over for what is hopefully not another two decades. Closing the album, Wonder 2 seems to employ a chorus of slo-mo helicopters and feedback, and naturally leaves you impatient to listen to the whole thing all over again.
This comes six years after MBV reformed but it was worth the wait. Note to the Pixies: you reformed in 2004, what the fuck?
Originally published 3 May 2013.