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My Bloody Valentine
m b v
The most astounding thing about m b v, of course, is simply that it exists—that a single promise proved true and more than two decades of false starts, myth-filled turmoil, and tortured perfectionism on Kevin Shields’ part came to fruition. My Bloody Valentine‘s audience and critical profile has, of course, increased massively in intervening years (enough in fact to bring down the band’s website for a full night), but the basic aesthetic that defined shoegaze in 1991 has remained remarkably consistent, even if m b v trades some of Loveless‘s dreaminess for rough-around-the-edges aggression. Simply hear the crushing closing trifecta—“In Another Way”, “Nothing Is”, “Wonder 2”—and the naked debt they owe to Shields’ one-time stint in Primal Scream. It’s neither, ultimately, a flawless masterpiece nor a disappointment, but a full-bodied and satisfying yowl from the void of inactivity.
Four years is a long time to wait between records with hardly an update, release, or even much touring to account for it, so you’d be forgiven for having given up or assumed, as I did, that 2009’s fantastic In Prism was some sort of odd fluke or one-time-only gift from the void. It wasn’t. Polvo, the Chapel Hill band that made its bones with fiercely intricate would-be classics Today’s Active Lifestyles and Celebrate the New Dark Ages, returned in October with Siberia, which combines In Prism‘s languorous psychedelic mood pieces with slight hints of Shapes’ eclectic turns: a fluttery acoustic number here (“Old Maps”), a genuine synth solo there (“Light, Raking”), and what even sounds like a clanging drum machine on album closer “Anchoress”. Ash Bowie’s guitar work has mellowed since the crushing hysterics of, say, “Stinger (Five Wigs)” and “Fractured (Like Chandeliers)”, but his knack for melody has only emboldened since Prism‘s dreamy latter half, highlighted here by the lengthy “The Water Wheel” and driving “Some Songs”.
The Flaming Lips
Cut from the same damaged cloth as 2009’s Embryonic, The Terror is even more despairing a statement—possibly in response to the dissolution of Wayne Coyne’s marriage, the relapse of Steven Drozd’s heroin addiction, or both. In ways, it hearkens back to 1997’s Zaireeka more than anything you’ll find in the Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi decade—which is to say it is dark, sinister, and noisy, but it never quite rocks, at least not in the manner of “The W.A.N.D.” or “Turn It On”. Sure, “Look… The Sun Is Rising” and “Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die” have their grooves, but a sense of panic overwhelms, the guitars buzz like saws (or PIL), and the album is ripe with plodding, dread-filled numbers like the desperate title track and eerily searching “You Are Alone”. If Yoshimi is where the Lips solidified their status as string-coated critical darlings, The Terror—just over a decade later—is where they pack up the furry animal costumes for good and crawl back into pop’s foggy underground.
It probably seems a little disingenuous to include this record here, considering its gorgeous, three-minute opening cut, “Open the Door”, sounds like a lost Crosby, Stills & Nash track misplaced sometime in 1974. And it’s not even such an outlier—the rest of New Moon, though admittedly much noisier, partakes in the same pastoral, sun-baked ‘70s vibes, running the gamut from yearning roots-rock (“The Seeds”) to pulsing guitar aggression (“Supermoon”). You can almost take New Moon as a warning: don’t go strumming around campfires in upstate New York, kids, or you’ll end with an album as hippie-fried as this one. Or you can catch the hints that have peppered the Men‘s previous LPs (three in three years—three shouts for productivity) and embrace New Moon‘s firm sense of self as an antidote to Open Your Heart‘s minor identity crisis. Really, by the time you make it to “I Saw Her Face”, the band’s stirring Crazy Horse tribute of a side-closer, you won’t have a choice.
Who are Savages and where did they come from? I mean, I know who they are—a London four-piece whose hype in the critical sphere far preceded the release of Silence Yourself, their debut, last spring—but why now? Why here? What did we do to deserve this record?
Silence Yourself is a product of 2013, but it’s not tied so tightly to any fleeting or current genre trends. The jagged-edge guitar squalls and asserting bass presence bear the proud marks of the ‘80s post-punk revolution. The blistering, overdriven production and remarkably forceful vocals from Jehnny Beth—shrieks, moans, and all—call to mind riot grrrl at its creative peak. (I can’t be the only one to have immediately thought of The Woods on my first listen.) Mostly, though, Silence Yourself could be from any year. From start to finish, its 11 tracks contain the intensity that’s at the core of literally any powerful rock record: those hiccupping shrieks that form the chorus of “Husbands”, the ghosts of guitar echoes that pad out “I Am Here”‘s steady atmospherics, the squalling instrumental chaos that is “Hit Me”. It’s searing, powerful stuff—a record that could have arrived any year, but could only have been recorded by Savages.