Connect with us

Music

Review: My Bloody Valentine, m b v

m b v is the innovation and sonic warmth of My Bloody Valentine rekindled and made anew.

 

4.5

Published

on

My Bloody Valentine, m b v

The first time I heard My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, the album seemed to flash and recede in an instant—a single, seamless blurred moment of majestic noise. Afterward, I was left with the abiding impression that I’d never experienced silence before. I’d never noticed how silent silence could be. The world, it seemed, was so quiet. My initial impressions were illogical snapshots of something at first too dense to make sense of: the echo of a thousand sirens singing in unison, the mind-shattering moan of a guitar come alive.

With time, and many more listens, I was finally able to unwind the album’s sounds: “Only Shallow” was the shivered whirl of guitar as god-machine revving up to full throttle, “To Here Knows When” was an impossible hybrid of dance and drone music, “Blown a Wish” sounded like the best pop song ever written underwater, and “Soon” was vagueness as a seven-minute, heaven-reaching body high. Loveless was rock as unrestrained femininity, guitar music utterly phallus-less, yet more aggressive in sound than ever before or since. It was plush and radiant, yet it made every metal album seem soft, and every noise album sound quiet.

To this day, listening to Loveless feels like swimming in a warm bath of opiates and lust. It’s a primal, wombadelic, every-direction, every-color echo of what it feels like to be human, to be a mess of synapses, sexual desire, anxiety, obsession, fears, and hopes. The album is an overwhelming sound portrait of the human experience—the sound of flesh and blood.

No follow-up could ever reach the bar set by 22 years of romanticizing one of the most discussed artifacts in music history, but m b v comes close. It exists somewhere between My Bloody Valentine’s first two albums, between angular guitar contortions and velvety slide-guitar currents. Within the first few seconds, it becomes immediately clear that this is a My Bloody Valentine album. From the opening track, “She Found Now,” that MBV muscle memory in your eardrums kicks back in, and it’s evident that even after all these years, Kevin Shields can still conjure transcendence through swirling guitars and androgynous vocals.

m b v can be divided into three distinct segments. The first is strikingly familiar, reminiscent of Loveless: “She Found Now” opens with all the intensity of being born in an echo chamber, while “Only Tomorrow” and “Who Sees You” paint sine waves with reverb that dance like ribbons in a cyclone. But the slight variations on the Loveless formula—all atmosphere-bending guitars, warping walls of sound, and blankets of reverb—are essentially negligible: The vocals are mixed higher, the drums are less buried, and there is, in general, less ebb and flow to the structure, as the tones linger, unchanged, longer than before. After the understated, digital organ interlude “Is This and Yes,” m b v enters decidedly more poppy territory. The breathtaking “If I am” and “New You” channel the oceanic melodies of “Blown a Wish,” woozy, oscillating tones instilling a numbing sensuality, while the aqueous whispers bleed and spill like watercolors.

The album’s final segment is a quantum leap forward for My Bloody Valentine, a paradigm shift that very well could have changed the course of contemporary music had the album been released in 1996 as originally expected. The noises and shapes on the last three tracks are unlike anything we’ve ever heard from the band before. “In Another Way” opens with piping screeches and jungle beats; these rumbling industrial gyrations progress like a piano being flung down a flight of stairs. The song introduces a new hue to the My Blood Valentine palette, while all the while somehow retaining the band’s trademark ethereality. If that track hints at the clamor of industrial machinery, “Nothing Is” explicitly references it: a full three minutes of drum-heavy undulation that cycles in continuum.

“Wonder 2” begins with a chill-inducing blast, one not dissimilar to the guitar howls on Isn’t Anything‘s opener “Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside).” This is one of the fiercest tones ever drawn from a guitar: the sound of being thrown headlong into the whirling turbines of a jet engine. The track, as a whole, is something entirely unique, and altogether alien, a seamless hybrid of drum n’ bass and Shield’s fourth-dimensional guitar swells. These might be the most ineffable depths My Bloody Valentine has explored with the guitar, an exhibition of Shield’s inventiveness pushed to its furthest illogical endpoint. A few twists and turns shy of perfection, m b v is the innovation and sonic warmth of My Bloody Valentine rekindled and made anew.

Label: Pickpocket Release Date: February 2, 2013

Advertisement
Comments

Music

Review: Yola’s Walk Through Fire Feels Like a Musical Time Capsule

The British soul singer’s debut seems to have emerged from a time capsule circa 1969.

3.5

Published

on

Walk Through Fire
Photo: Alysse Gafkjen/Nonesuch

Everything about Yola’s debut, Walk Through Fire, seems to have emerged from a time capsule circa 1969—from the album cover, with its muted color palette and chunky vintage fonts, to the musical arrangements, which mix baroque-pop signifiers like glockenspiel and pizzicato strings with more timeless organ and pedal steel. The album’s session musicians are of a similar vintage: Drummer Gene Chrisman and pianist Bobby Wood are both veterans of the house band from American Sound Studio in Memphis, ground zero for Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” and Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis.

It’s tempting to ascribe this studious retro sensibility to producer Dan Auerbach, whose 2017 solo album, Waiting on a Song, treaded similar territory with some of the same musicians. But Yola, whose colorful backstory includes a brief stint with trip-hoppers Massive Attack, has a voice that lends itself to the analogue treatment: rich and mellifluous, adept at both caressing the melodies of a lilting ballad like “Shady Grove” and blowing the roof off of a belter like “Lonely the Night.” The British singer simply sounds like the product of another era, closer in spirit to the likes of Mavis Staples than to 21st-century R&B stylists like SZA.

If Through the Fire sounds like it’s from 1969, that’s because the late ‘60s were the golden era of country-soul, when a small but significant group of artists, songwriters, and producers were blurring the boundaries between working-class black and white roots music. Yola, who’s cited Dolly Parton as a crucial influence, is right at home in this space, sounding as natural singing atop the fiddles and pedal steel of lead single “Ride Out in the Country” as she does over the organ and horn section of “Still Gone.” The ease with which Yola, Auerbach, and their collaborators blend these genres is a powerful reminder of their shared roots—particularly at a time when musical styles feel at once more amorphous and more rigidly segregated than ever.

While Through the Fire’s facsimile of ‘60s country-soul is uncanny, the sturdiness of its songcraft is even more impressive. Yola and Auerbach composed the majority of the album with seasoned songwriters—most notably Dan Penn, who as the co-writer of standards like “The Dark End of the Street” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” played no small role in the creation of country-soul as a genre. None of the songs on Through the Fire are of quite that caliber, and some feel like they’re trying too hard to be: The subject matter of “Ride Out in the Country” is a bit too bucolically on the nose, while a few stray lyrical references to “across the great divide” and “love [is] a losing game” come across as distracting tips of the hat to more canonical—and, frankly, better—songs. But on tracks like “Keep Me Here” and “It Ain’t Easier,” Yola seems capable of not only expertly mimicking the sounds of the past, but also creating something that will itself stand the test of time.

Label: Easy Eye Sound/Nonesuch Release Date: February 22, 2019 Buy: Amazon

Continue Reading

Music

Review: Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Signs Points to Better Times Ahead

The band’s raw, crowd-pleasing blues-rock remains as rousing as ever on Signs.

3.5

Published

on

Signs
Photo: Shore Fire Media

Tedeschi Trucks Band’s raw brand of blues-rock is a thrilling resurrection of bygone genres endemic to the southeastern United States, and they play with the freewheeling improvisatory energy of hallowed country-rock bands like the Allman Brothers, Little Feat, and Black Oak Arkansas. The group’s sound hasn’t noticeably evolved since their 2011 debut, Revelator, but their craft—particularly the electrifying, full-throated howl of singer Susan Tedeschi—remains as rousing as ever on their fourth album, Signs.

Lead single “Hard Case” fuses Americana, Memphis soul, and New Orleans swamp funk to tell the story of lovers who can’t quit each other. Tedeschi’s wails seamlessly intertwine with Matt Mattison’s gruff warble. “You’re a hard case to refuse,” Tedeschi sings, her voice tinged with both overwhelming desire and a creeping sense of self-doubt. Like most Tedeschi Trucks songs, “Hard Case” attempts to capture the blistering kinetic energy of the band’s live performances, and it mostly succeeds: The drums pummel, the solos meander, and the guitars, expertly played by Tedeschi’s husband, Derek Trucks, unexpectedly leap forward.

“Hard Case” is the closest Signs comes to matching the unbridled dynamism of “Part of Me,” a soaring standout from 2013’s Made Up My Mind. Yet the album also contains a handful of irrepressible trad-rock jams that allow Tedeschi’s vocals to take center stage, as on the Motown-inspired “I’m Gonna Be There” and “They Don’t Shine.” On “Walk Through This Life,” her voice veers from exuberant and unrestrained to subtle and declarative, yet it never loses its luster, evoking, at turns, that of Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, and Gladys Knight.

Many Americana outfits have become sociopolitical observers in the Trump era, and Tedeschi Trucks Band is no different. “Signs, Hard Times” is a blue-eyed soul rave-up that calls on bystanders to get off the sidelines in a time when passivity amounts to complicity. “No more fooling around,” Tedeschi shouts, urging us to take action before it’s too late. Yet, at times, their activist message comes off as stilted. “Shame, there’s poison in the well/Shame, you know we can’t un-ring the bell,” Tedeschi proclaims on “Shame.” It’s a well-intentioned but ultimately shallow truism—a lyric that states the obvious without offering any solutions.

At their best, the songs on Signs bristle with a kind of wide-eyed optimism. On “Still Your Mind,” Tedeschi seems to sum up the album’s mission: “You’re not alone/So many people feel that low/But I’ll help you grow.” While not without its flaws, Signs heals in this way. It’s often so joyous and spirited that, for a moment, it’s easy to envision better times ahead.

Label: Fantasy Release Date: February 15, 2019 Buy: Amazon

Continue Reading

Music

Review: Ariana Grande Embraces Her Flaws on Thank U, Next

The pop princess comes off as a decidedly unsympathetic character throughout her fifth album.

3.5

Published

on

Thank U, Next
Photo: Republic Records

Ariana Grande doesn’t care if you like her. The pop princess comes off as a decidedly unsympathetic character throughout her fifth album, Thank U, Next. She fantasizes about her ex while her lover sleeps beside her on “Ghostin,” she picks fights with him for the make-up sex on “Make Up,” and she glibly coaxes a guy into dumping his girlfriend just for kicks on the plainly titled “Break Up with Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored.”

As Grande recently proclaimed on Twitter, “Life is full trash,” and it’s this willingness to reveal herself warts and all that makes it easy to forgive her various indiscretions. She isn’t afraid to admit that she’s “Needy” and—on the very next track—that she simultaneously requires her personal space. “Been through some bad shit, I should be a sad bitch/Who woulda thought it’d turn me to a savage?” she declares on “7 Rings,” which finds the singer boasting of her financial prowess in the key of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things.”

Today’s pop stars typically rely on rappers to deliver the kind of braggadocious verses that would otherwise dirty up their squeaky-clean personas, but Grande spits her own rhymes throughout Thank U, Next, and they’re so slick that Princess Nokia and Soulja Boy have both accused her of biting their flows. There are no guest rappers on this decidedly lean follow-up to last year’s Sweetener, and while one might expect it to be filled with at least a few stale leftovers from that album, the songs here rarely sound like sloppy seconds.

Thank U, Next is easily Grande’s most sonically consistent effort to date, even if that means some of the album’s sleek R&B tracks tend to blur together. Aside from a wealth of trap beats and finger snaps, the album’s most notable characteristic is the recurring use of orchestral flourishes. The opening track, “Imagine,” is a dreamy midtempo ballad, with Grande pining for an Instagram-perfect romance that comprises sharing sexy baths and pad thai. The song takes a sudden turn in its final third, as it builds to a hypnotic climax filled with cinematic swells and Grande’s euphoric, Minnie Ripperton-esque whistle notes.

That same tactic makes slightly less thematic sense on the reggae-inflected “Bad Idea,” on which Grande espouses the temporarily amnesiac virtues of casual sex. Elsewhere, the use of a sample by the late soul singer Wendy Rene on “Fake Smile” initially smacks of misappropriation, followed as it is by seemingly mindless lines like “Another night, another party, sayin’ hi to everybody.” But by the end, the song reveals itself to be a modern expression of the blues, about a young woman trying to navigate life in an era where privacy is virtually nonexistent. Grande ultimately earns the use of that sample, and it’s her refusal to fake a smile that proves to be what makes her so damn likeable.

Label: Republic Release Date: February 8, 2019 Buy: Amazon

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Donate

Slant is reaching more readers than ever, but as online advertising continues to evolve, independently operated publications like ours have struggled to adapt. We're committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees—so if you like what we do, please consider becoming a Slant patron:

Patreon

You can also make a donation via PayPal.

Giveaways

Advertisement

Newsletter

Advertisement

Preview

Trending