My Bloody Valentine: “Wonder 2”
I’m terrible with words. There are lines in some of my favorite songs ever that I don’t know or, at the very least, am quite unsure of. This has always been the case with music and me*.
Back in 1993-1994, I asked my cousins to make me copies of the lyrics to my then-favorite (and only) albums, Nevermind and In Utero, which they’d transcribed in a notebook. It was the only way I could learn what Kurt was singing. It was difficult to distinguish the words from all of the other wonderful sounds going on in the songs. I didn’t know the words to “Scentless Apprentice” but I knew the intricacies of the guitar, bass, and drum parts enough to replicate them all vocally—which I’d do while walking to school or in the locker room before basketball practice.
I’m terrific with sounds. Kevin Shields, I probably don’t need to tell you, knows how to make some sounds. What My Bloody Valentine’s guitars say, in swirls, whirs, roars, and flashes, is the equivalent of Bob Dylan lyrics. Just a different language. Not lines of verse but just as rich—the dense layers of guitars enveloping and disorienting you, sparking emotions, memories, and thoughts, both consciously and subconsciously, beckoning you to discover new melodies with each listen, offering new meaning.
“Wonder 2”, the last track on mbv, has sounds that are near-perfect replications of a helicopter and a jet flying overhead. Those sounds made me think about when I was growing up in Oshkosh, WI, home of the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association). Every year the EAA holds a Fly-In and hundreds of thousands of people—with nearly as many aircraft—descend upon the city. I heard helicopters, jets, and planes constantly during the summer. Because of this, I know that the sound of a jet’s engine overhead doesn’t always have a smooth, constant roar. There are breaks and ticks, making the roar more fractured. Shields gets that. I only say “near-perfect” because he makes his breaks and ticks too rhythmic. But, let me be clear, this nitpicking does not mean the sound is any less than awesome. When I saw MBV live in September 2008, there was jet-engine-like force and heat blasting from the speakers so I shouldn’t be surprised that Shields is making the sounds to match.
“Wonder 2” ends the album on an aggressive and exciting note. After a first half that lulls you with the sumptuous dreaminess that MBV does so well, the second half of mbv is lusty. There’s the baggy grooves of “New You” and the pummeling discordant loops of “Nothing Is.” Beats have had about as much focus as singing on MBV’s previous album (we’ll get to that in a sec) and accompanying EPs. It’s a welcome place for Shields to explore. Maybe on the next EP (I know, I know) he’ll further develop that.
Now, Loveless. It changed sound forever. After 22 years you think maybe Shields has returned to change it yet again. But he hasn’t. And that’s ok. Despite the replicants, this is still his sound. And even if he doesn’t top it, there’s something to be said for creating something so singular that can maintain its power. Not that he’s on autopilot with it. Shields is perfecting his sound. The production on the new album is incredible. Very warm and present. Loveless wasn’t like that until recently with the remastered edition. The original version was like a beautiful work you had to admire from afar, an artwork behind velvet rope, lasers, and seismographs, compared to the way the remastered version removed the distance and demanded you interact with the work. The analogue is even more glorious on mbv. Maybe it isn’t the face-of-music-altering, unquestionable Classic that Loveless is, but it’s a really, really good record that is nothing less than an Album of the Year.
*Which still puzzles me because I write. I’m thinking about words a lot. But even someone like David Berman, whose book of poetry, Actual Air, is something I enjoy alongside of The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, James Tate’s Worshipful Company of Fletchers, Jennifer L. Knox’s Drunk by Noon, or Michael Robbins’s Alien vs. Predator, I probably know more about the sounds of Silver Jews records than his words, which, I think, is mainly what you’re listening for.