My Bloody Valentine, “mbv” (mybloodyvalentine.org)
Without much warning, My Bloody Valentine released its first record in 22 years on its website.The English-Irish band’s principal songwriter and wool-gatherer, Kevin Shields, had been promising a new album — but he had been making those promises for almost half his life.
Unsurprisingly, “mbv” sounds like a sequel to “Loveless,” its much-loved antecedent and highest achievement of the post-punk subgenre called shoegaze; it builds out from the earlier record, and establishes the same relationship to your ears.
Built into the music’s outer layers are distortion and reverb and slow, wavelike applications of Shields’ tremolo bar; down below, neutrally pretty and almost disembodied pop singing, by him or rhythm guitarist Bilinda Butcher, as well as drumming minimized to a floppy stomp or a kick-drum thump. The drones of the Velvet Underground and La Monte Young are in there; so is the sweetness of the Carpenters. This is vivid music, with color and texture and perhaps taste.
Shields’ pop instincts have become gnarled. He clearly has spent some of the interim thinking more about harmony and structure than hooks: These songs, passive-aggressive as they may be, contain strong major-to-minor movements, irregular shapes, contrary motion between voice and guitars.
But he has also been thinking about currents in pop from the time of “Loveless” that have now become deeply dated: “Is This and Yes,” with organlike keyboard sounds, harmonized vocal lines and no guitar, resembles a slack version of late-’90s Stereolab; “In Another Way” and the whooshing, phasing “Wonder 2” use drum-and-bass rhythms; “New You” settles for a wan, medium-tempo Happy Mondays-like groove.
Perhaps he has been thinking about the terms on which he wants to be loved — not so much trying to find out what he’s worth to you, but what you’re worth to him. “Nothing Is” repeats the same pummeling two-beat phrase, in guitar and machine drums, without variation. It’s not great art, but if you can put up with that, then you’ve made his cut.
BEN RATLIFF, New York Times
Gary Allan, “Set You Free” (MCA Nashville)
Allan is one country star who’s not afraid to hit his fans with a lot of downbeat material (perhaps not surprising for a singer who lost his wife to suicide). That refusal to sugarcoat life is pretty country, and it has helped make the Southern Californian consistently satisfying, even as he has gradually progressed to a more mainstream, radio-ready sound.
On “Set You Free,” Allan shows again that he can hit pretty hard, whether he’s delivering a venom-dipped warning in “Bones,” admitting that “It Ain’t the Whiskey” (“that’s killing me”), or trying to come to grips with “You Without Me” (“Don’t think you’ve ever looked more beautiful/ And you’ve never been more gone”).
Juxtaposed with numbers such as these, the more upbeat offerings take on greater heft. “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain),” “No Worries” and “Good as New” are not just formulaic banalities. Rather, the optimism and happiness they express come across as hard-earned and genuine.
Allan performs Saturday at Treasure Island Casino in Red Wing.
Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer