The Bubble Album Reviews No. 23

My Bloody Valentine- mbv
A little over 21 years ago My Bloody Valentine released Loveless; a record that many critics came to hail as one of the greatest albums ever. Departing from the more immediate sound of their previous releases, this record was a dense, vague, and lushly layered discordant symphony of effects laden guitar blended with dreamlike voice-as-an-instrument style vocals, which spawned a new way of thinking about what music could be. It had the music press throwing evermore fantastical superlatives at the band, seemingly in a bid to outdo each other’s fervent adulation. It would be an understatement, then, to say that excitement for whatever followed Loveless was high. As such, the news that a new Valentine album would be soon made available to download provoked such an onslaught of activity from surprised fans that the website hosting it crashed multiple times.

With such history, it is inevitable that this new release – the not so inventively titled mbv – will be assessed with reference to what came before it, which is compounded by the fact that mbv isn’t such a great departure from Loveless. Indeed, the pulsing and hypnotic opening track feels like a fleshed out Loveless vignette, and we’re still very much on familiar territory with the following song, ‘only tomorrow’, which sounds like Loveless at its best: heady, arresting, and sexy; the way Bilinda Butcher’s vaporous vocals blend sweetly with the dissonant sonics of Shield’s constantly yielding and distorting guitar riffs sounds akin to having someone whisper their secrets to you outside a nightclub. In ‘who sees you’ we’re reacquainted with the familiar Valentine trope of having a whirling landscape of guitars wrap themselves around the confluence of Shield’s and Butcher’s languid, breathy, and intimate vocals. The effect is still as intoxicating and overwhelming as it ever was, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the rest of the album will continue to follow the familiar path.

From the fourth track onwards, however, we begin to see mbv stand apart as its own album. The understated ‘is this and yes’ is one of the most minimalist songs Valentine have ever recorded; sounding more chillwave than shoegaze, it saunters along pleasantly enough without ever really grabbing your attention. However, if i am continues the tranquil mood in a more enticing fashion, and it’s pleasing to hear Butcher’s luscious vocals accompanied not by the dissonant wailing of previous tracks, but the inviting sound of lightly strummed guitar animated by gentle reverb. It adds a satisfying dynamic to the album, and shows that the band can be powerful without turning their amps up to 11. The final track in this triad of serene songs is new you, which sounds a little like their take on a Happy Mondays song. It starts promisingly enough, with melodious vocals washing over a punchy bass line and baggy beat, but rather than building on this, the final few minutes of the track simply lapses into a repetition of the hook with the lyrics replaced by assonant sounds; it’s catchy, but rather uninspiring.

Following this is ‘in another way’, which is one of the most exciting tracks on the album. Sounding like the continuation of the ideas that inspired Loveless’ last track Soon, it begins with a tumultuous and driving drumbeat which is then accompanied by soaring trill guitar, with the cacophony of sound just about brought in to order by the unearthly majesty of the vocals. Yet more challenging is the song that succeeds it, ‘nothing is’; a riproaring and relentless track which is essentially three and a half minutes of noise that can either feel bludgeoning or rapturous depending upon whether you attempt to fight it or let it wash over you. No doubt the band will elongate this song to 20 minutes when playing live. Ending the album is the trippy and brilliant ‘wonder 2’, which somehow manages to feel like it’s going backwards and forwards at the same time; it is a riotous symphony of phased drums, feedback, and indistinct, confusing vocals, with the effect being that the track at once feels distant yet immersive. It doesn’t particularly sound like a Valentine track, yet couldn’t be executed in such a manner by any other band. The debate as to where mbv stands in the My Bloody Valentine discography will, I feel, rest on how these last three tracks are received.

mbv doesn’t seem to signify a reboot of the band’s identity, as the eponymous acronymic title suggests, yet neither have they sought to simply rehash old material. It will be interesting to see where the band goes from here. If you’re familiar with My Bloody Valentine you’ll definitely find something to connect with, and, if you’re not, this is as good a place to start as any. A very accomplished album in its own right, and definitely worth repeated listens.

By Gary Andrew JohnsonFoxygen- We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
At some point in every contented kid’s childhood, that kid will feel some inexplicable urge to go down the line of fizzy drink taps at a certain hut where pizzas are sold to dispense an uncalculated fraction of each liquid on offer into a plastic cup; producing an incongruous mess (much like the results of my lab work) of a colour which for the simple reason of its horribleness no one has ever cared to define. Foxygen’s album We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is that drink. It’s a sacrilegious acid trip of horse rides down Penny Lane, Walks on the Wild Side, fun Under the Boardwalk, Sunsets in Waterloo and Positivity on 4th Street; and consequently going no place at all. Anybody with any taste would hastily pour it down the sink after the first well-meaning sip. Just so you don’t think I’m being a miserable bastard I’ll tell you right now there are some truly brilliant moments and songs on this album which I have picked out for you, albeit not without a touch of irony. Roll up for the magical mystery tour. Unfortunately, I’ve used up all the sick bags.

Track 1: In the Darkness

And so the pastiche begins. In this first song alone there are literally dozens of references to lyrics from at least 6 independent Beatles songs that I have noticed involuntarily or have bothered to fish out: Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band, A Day in the Life, Fool on the Hill, and a sample of what sounds like girls screaming a la Beatlemania; I’ll leave you to work out the rest. Admittedly the song makes for a good game of spot-the-Beatles reference and at 2 minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome, but there’s nothing more to it, certainly in terms of creativity. 4/10

Track 2: No Destruction

Now hopefully you’ve caught on already that this album is essentially a tribute to late 60s early 70s pop music, so I’ll try to keep the pop references in my cherry cola from here on, but ‘No Destruction’ is ostensibly a classic ambling Lou Reed track and the Dylan of 1965 would dig it too. It is utterly brilliant, with a beautiful sadness and a nostalgia that you can almost smell through the speakers. One of the best songs you will hear all year with great quotables like “There’s no need to be an asshole/ You’re not in Brooklyn anymore” whatever that means. Walk to it, but don’t cry to it, after all it’s only Foxygen. 9/10

Track 3: On Blue Mountain

Listen out for the gospel strut and the transition after “I hide my feelings, yeah, for you to find” between the first and second verse, It’s the best moment in this song and If you’re not careful It will pass you by. To be quite honest the song should end at 2 minutes dead; I have no idea why it sticks around for another 4 more minutes, dragging out its endless tease of suspicious minds. 3/10

Track 4: San Francisco

You may cringe at the overwhelming tweeness of this one, but just wait for the chorus, it comes after a bizarre daisy chain of orchestration and it’s a real cutie. You can tell a member of the Shins was involved in this one, the extra bar that hangs over versus and choruses really adds bite to the hooks – of which there are many in this song and as for the line “That’s ok, I was born in L.A.”, well you’ll be humming it for weeks. Brilliant hippie-psychadelia. Best enjoyed with the music video. 9/10

Track 5: Bowling Trophies

Filler. A forgettable instrumental track. Think back to the mad cacophonies in Piper at the Gates of Dawn or Abbey Road, well it’s like that, but not as mad and nowhere near as creative. Skip this one. 2/10

Track 6: Shuggie

Right, the first Foxygen song I heard. Unfavourable comparisons with MGMT are unavoidable, it has those unexpected changes in the time signature, its fair share of ba-ba-ba-da-da-da’s and even a ridiculous woodwind solo. Perhaps the only thing about Shuggie that trumps say Flash Delirium is the relative coherence of the lyrics, Shuggie’s lyrics are funny and they play like the best snippets from scrapped songs whereas MGMT lyrics, as well as being always dada-ist are also invariably meaningless. 7/10

Track 7: Oh Yeah

It’s meant to be the sex track of the album, but the only thing I can imagine pushing to this is a trolley around the grocer’s. Maybe it’s because I know what Foxygen look like, but the sound of them trying to butter me up with their goofy falsetto and two stroke engine bass lines just feels totally wrong. And then there’s this shoehorned reference to Simon & Garfunkel and if there’s one thing I know, It’s that Garfunkel never had any sex, ever. 6/10

Track 8: We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

Prepare yourself for a migraine. It’s the title track and It’s the worst track on the album. 0/10

Track 9: On No

‘Oh No’ begins as an exhibition of Foxygen at their Lou Reed best, you can see them blazing up in a darkened New York apartment surrounded by polaroids with a couple of girls in wayfarers and someone talking through a dictaphone saying “I was standing on the bed/Birds were landing on my head/Even though it’s just a dream/I still don’t know what it means” It’s four minutes of tongue in cheek 60s brilliance, but just when you think you’re sold on Foxygen well then they go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like “If you believe in love/ Everything you see is love/So try to be what God wants you to be/And say that “I love you” again” in what sounds like the mawkish finale of a kindergarten rendition of Abbey Road complete with toddlers whining. Unforgivable, and for that I have to dock off four points, sorry guys. 6/10

So If you don’t like classic 60s pop you won’t enjoy this album and If you do like 60s pop, you won’t enjoy it either. For that reason it’s simply impossible to recommend this album to anyone. Don’t get me wrong, inspiration is everything and bands that have shown these influences on their sleeves have frequently produced interesting music; MGMT, Supergrass, Tame Impala etc.. The fact is that Foxygen simply can’t carry that weight. The moral of the story: never mix drinks.

By Walt TaylorYo La Tengo- Fade
Fade is Yo La Tengo’s 14th studio album, which is a considerable achievement for almost any band, made more remarkable by the fact that it’s damn good. While it never reaches the heights of their mid-90s heyday (which in all honesty seems foolish to expect), it is perhaps their most focused album, and maybe their best since 2000’s excellent And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out.

First song “Ohm” is another in the long list of excellent Yo La Tengo album openers. A driving drum beat is joined by chugging, overdriven guitars and chanted vocals. The use of string instruments gives the song a more full-bodied feeling, a trick which is repeated elsewhere in the album, giving some of the songs an almost chamber-pop feel. The song serves as a good indicator of what Yo La Tengo do well – carefully crafted indie rock that is concerned with texture and tone, without shying away from catchy melodies.

The rest of the album acts as a blueprint for the types of songs that are often found on Yo La Tengo albums. There are moments of fuzzed-out pop bliss (“Paddle Forward”), slower songs that pair hushed vocals with delicate guitar figures (“Cornelia and Jane”) and experiments into other genres (“Paddle Forward” combines lounge-y piano with stabbing, punkish guitars).

My personal favourite is the final song, “Before We Run”. An insistent drum beat is overlaid with arpeggiated guitar and joined by violins and trumpets. The song takes its time to slowly build itself up, with each layer adding to its feeling of considered forward motion, which is reflected in the lyrics: “Hold it in your arms, be still, pull there/I’ll hold you in mine before we run.”

If you’ve never listened to Yo La Tengo before, Fade is a good album to start with. It’s more concise than their career high-point I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, and contains fewer noisy moments and stylistic diversions, which might be off-putting to newcomers. If you like what you hear though, Fade will lead you to explore one of the best and most consistent rock bands of the last 20 years. That the album itself is a pleasure to listen to from start to finish is a pretty great bonus, too.

By Rafael LubnertUnE-yArDs- w h o k i l l
Take the music away from the name tUnE-yArDs and you’re left with an annoying, unnecessary mixture of lower and upper case letters. One would think that this was an artist trying too hard to be different. Not so. The brains behind the music, Merrill Garbus doesn’t need to “try” to be different, she just is. Her first album BiRd-BrAiNs (again with the strange stylisation) was recorded in her own bedroom on a Dictaphone and released in 2009 on recycled cassette tapes. This alone inspires a confidence in Garbus, who’s decided to go very much her own way with her sound. Two years later in April 2011 saw the release of w h o k i l l, another avant-garde breaking of the conventional music mould. It takes a while to warm to the unusual, discordant sound of tUnE-yArDs. Some would find the whiny voice of Garbus a little annoying. But with only a small amount of perseverance, it soon becomes clear that something seems to work. Regarding her sound, it’s hard to give it a genre. Throughout the album Garbus incorporates clashing saxophone tunes, with repetitive drum fills, catchy ukulele riffs and wild and ingenious vocal melodies.

A highlight of the album comes five tracks in with ‘riotriot’. An enchanting down-tempo ukulele beat turns suddenly into a brilliant (what I would call) Carribean inspired samba mash-up following the a cappella screeching of the line “there is a freedom in violence that I don’t understand, and like I’ve never felt before”. Completely random and unexpected (like much of the material on the album, it has to be said), which makes the track a definite highlight.

Another definite track to listen to is ‘Bizness’. From beginning to end, the piece emanates a simple coolness. It leads in with samples of Garbus’ voice, layered with her actual voice and accompanied by a very simple drum beat. The song is put together with an effortless ease. Simplicity is key here; it is because there are so few layers that the song achieves a depth and “listenability”.

tUnE-yArDs also succeeds in what is usually lets so many albums down; she has variation. Despite the use of similar instruments throughout, each track has a distinctly different feel whilst still keeping true to the message of the album. And there definitely is a somewhat dark message. With song titles like ‘gangsta’, ‘riotriot’ and ‘killa’, it is obvious that life in Oakland, California (Garbus’ hometome) is riddled with conflict. Indeed the people of the largest coastal port in California deal with shootings, riots and protests on a daily basis. The lyrics of ‘Doorstep’ portray the battle to be a good person in a world riddled with violence and wrong doing- “Well, I’ve tried so hard to be a peaceful, loving woman”//”policemen shot my baby as he crossed over my doorstep”. It is clear what is important to Garbus and the album came in a year that saw riots much closer to home as well. It is only a shame that her work didn’t stretch across the pond; perhaps the violent gangs who plundered much of the UK in summer 2011 could have learnt a thing or two from Garbus’ lyrics.

So we’re now in 2013 and unfortunately Garbus remains in the US for the time being. The question is, will/when will she release her next venture? With such a unique sound as hers, one can only wait with anticipation to see what amalgamation of sound comes next. Perhaps a Hindi inspired African drumming mash up?

By Jen Hack

Leave a Reply