Sunday, July 09, 2006

My Bloody Valentine / Loveless / Rating: 10.5

“Holy shit this is the best record of my life. I will never be able to listen to anything without hearing echoes of this opus in my now fixated to the point of musical-fetish pornography ears. I imagine myself decades from now attempting to review other records, at a loss for more appropriate comparisons, gushing about the album that once was, these glory days of shoegaze, echo haze, and MXR phase. I’ll whisper to the world MBV. And Kevin Sheilds will shed softly a soft tear. “

Yeah alright, I get it. This record seems pretty original. I’ve been listening to it for a few weeks despite my initial misgivings about all the hype that has surrounded its release. Everyone is describing it in such stratospherically stilted terms, praising its neo-pop pioneering, lush soundscaping, and soft contrasting violence juxtaposition of pushed guitars and breathy vocal delivery that I just couldn’t strain my ears past the critics’ din to hear the din that is this record. So now I’ve finally wrapped my head around this music and I must admit I’m just the slightest bit disappointed.
I mean, I understood what was going on with Isn’t Anything. The pop elements were there, though sharpened with a dagger edge of punk, and the words were discernibly visceral, in fact memorable. They were doing the spacey echo-plex thing but I could still here the blueprint of melodic structure, conceptually rich lyricism and instrumentation beneath the somewhat lo-fi fuzzed up guitar and vocal treatments. On Loveless, however, I feel like I’m being purposely impaired, blocked even, from hearing any of these elements. I want to turn down the gain, dry out the mix a bit, and get a little more click, clack, gutteral delivery out of Shields, and about half as much breath out of Belinda Butcher’s near-whisper on the likes of “Touched” and “Blown a Wish.” All this might be easier to forgive if there were other melodic elements to steer our listening experience away from the wash of at times pointless musings in one direction or another but they simply aren’t there. We are set adrift, in most cases, right from the start of each tune on a listless journey across an ocean of fluffy guitar synth, cotton candy vague words and anticeptic rhythmic drones without a map or final destination and the trips seem to leave us floating out in the middle of nothing, longing just to fall asleep. Which is precisely what I did.
I hate to start a trend of name-dropping here but it seems like the MBV crew might have made nod or two in the direction of current media-darlings Asobi Seksu who’s recent release Citrus earned an appropriately astounding 8.3 from PFM. These guys are doing a similar thing but with so much more clarity and focus. When they do gentle, they really captivate with pin-drop precision, holding your attention to every pillowy word that floats from singer Yuki Chikudate’s languid lips. When it comes time for sonic assault, they do it with the acumen of great war generals, launching attacks from each drum stroke, crush of strings, and synth wails. Hell, they even display well-honed pop sensibility when it comes to mixing in Phil Spectoresque sparkle, hook, and shine. Basically, if My Bloody Valentine expects to compete in this emerging genre of richly textural guitar and closely blended mushed-up pop they might consider mining this Asobi Seksu record for the kind of musical conducting and symphonic accuracy it takes to pull off such atmospherically ambitious music before attempting their next release.
In the end I guess I can’t dismiss this record entirely but I must say I’ll be looking forward to a third release from this band in hopes for something with a little more explicitly defined direction. The talent appears to be there but without the necessary follow through, Loveless is simply a soundtrack for dreamless sleep.

Asobi Seksu / Citrus / Rating: 8.3

"Contrary to what you may see written about them, Asobi Seksu aren't gazing at their shoes on their second album-- they're looking skyward the whole time. Yes, the guitar overload, massive reverb, and deceptively sweet vocals are all there, but this New York quartet is anything but a My Bloody Valentine retread."

Credit where credit is due: Dear Joe Tangari, thanks for the above statement in your review. I must, however, offer the following...

Moment of Clarity: Stop fucking name dropping My Bloody Valentine. NOTHING sounds like THAT band or THAT record excepting of course THAT band and THAT record. Undeniably, Asobi Seksu sounds like a lot of bands (not a plus) and if you want to get down to it there are certainly more accurate comparisons. Here’s an exercise for you:
Break out this record and listen to the track “New Years” (track 3 for you internet piracy folks). Then, listen to the song "99 Luftballons" by Nena and imagine M83 covering the song with a guest appearance by the singer from the Concretes. Then, listen to the rest of Citrus and find yourself wondering why you never thought to make a Garage Band mash-up of the Cocteau Twins vs. The Smiths vs. Joy Division (surely they'd post it on Puritan Blister). Yeah, that would sound pretty cool. There’s a guy at Columbia that came up with a program that could make an infinite number of songs out of one uploaded audio track by dividing it up according to it’s own time/tempo elements and randomly rearranging it. Looks like this band only had to run the program 12 times with 12 pre-pitchfork-approved tracks. The point on influences is not lost. They’re great. They’re unavoidable. But, ultimately, a band with so many of them worn on so many sleeves is simply not worth more than a handful of listens.

One last word for plagiarism patrol: swing on over to the Tiny Mix Tapes review of this record for a near identical discussion of “just how perfect Sean McCabe's cover art is.” This is either a case of “who posted that drivel first?” or “…minds think alike.” Either way. Cover art does not a record make. Ciao.