As I, The Sultry Sultan, stated in a previous review, it is becoming more and more difficult to navigate the treacherous waters of indie rock in procurement of new, sonically driven art to paint one’s brain with the brush of forced emotion. After all, that is why we listen—is it not? …to feel. Subconsciously, we pick music to play that enhances the mood we are currently experiencing: sometimes joy, ennui, or excitement, etc. So it is a misnomer when, for instance, a member of your immediate family sees you moping around with your head phones on and draw the painfully low-hanging and ultimately erroneous conclusion that the reason you are “sad” is because you listen to “sad music.” For those who view music as a gateway to one’s spiritual fulfillment and happiness, or as Shakespeare put it: “the food of love,” this is not only absurd, but offensive. No one who loves art consumes said media to make themselves sad. We consume particular art at particular times because intrinsically, we like the idea that somebody, somewhere, at some time, experienced what we are experiencing at a given moment, and was talented enough to put it into words, or song. Even the most independent of us wants to feel understood, and our favorite music is written by artists that we feel understand us on some level; we crave this understanding, and that hunger drives us to seek out new art that corresponds with our most common emotions.
Every once in a while though, there comes an album that does not mirror previously experienced emotions back to the listener, but creates new ones. There have been only hand full of albums to do this for his royal Freshness: Amnesiac, Meadowlands, A Love Supreme, Illmatic, The Downward Spiral, Nina Simone in concert: I Put a Spell on You. That’s not to say that these are my all time favorite albums (okay, a couple might be) or the ones on the most heavy rotation, because they are not. These are the albums that caused me to feel something new within the context of consuming art. I am happy to say that I can now add another album to this list: M B V.
We cannot talk about this album without first considering how it is that you, dear reader, consume your media. Do you bump your MG certified joints through a RCA CD boom-box in the passenger seat of your 1992 Accord? Does the sight of a spinning record, and the sound of the familiar pop-hiss of a needle stop set your spine atingle? Or perhaps you have an Executor sized external hard drive, and require all of your albums to be at least 1.5 gigs and played in total lossless format? This series of seemingly senseless questions is meant to emphasize the point that no matter your audio poison, Brother Shields has you covered…for a price.
This album is not available on Spotify, or iTunes, or (shock) Papa Reznor and Dr. Dre’s
new superfluous streaming service Beats. No sir, the only way to jam this hipster joint is to plunge your freshly moisturized hand deep into you skin tight skinny jeans from Urban Outfitters, pull out your painfully ironic duct tape wallet, boot up your iBook that you’ve had since 05, and download that jawn straight to your HDD. If you want to listen to the record the way the artist intended, it is going to cost you at least sixteen bucks. In the grand scheme of things, this really isn’t all that unreasonable. Lets face it, most of you assholes spend more than that on a 4-pack of Dogfish Head. Still, consider that one must embark on a journey just to achieve entry here.
For your sixteen dollars, you get your choice of digital file formats, from the standard 320kbps mp3 file format, all the way up to 24 bit 96k WAV. This format includes with a disclaimer explaining that the album will take up an exorbitant amount of space, and will take a while to download. It will be followed by a condescending notice informing you that you probably don’t have the studio quality equipment necessary to enjoy the music in that format. In fact, you’d be better off just downloading the .mp3 version so you can access it on your iPhone (the white earbuds will complement your cutoff jeans and Clark’s Desert Chukkas quite well).
There is also of course, a 180 gram vinyl+mp3+CD version for sale as well for thirty dollars plus the cost of shipping. Let me preface the rest of the review by saying that I do not consider myself an audiophile by any stretch of the imagination*. I like for things to sound good, sure—crisp and clear with all of the intricacies of the music there for my listening pleasure, but I do not have thousands of dollars worth of high end audio equipment. With that said, if you have the means, the way to consume this album is on vinyl, with stereo speakers, turnt the fuck up so loud that the sound waves cause Pabst you’re drinking to jump out of the can and onto your plaid button-down. This album is a wall of sound so dense that the energy from a dying star could be harmlessly ensconced within it.
The album opens up with a trio of heavy, guitar-laden tracks, complete with the distortion that the band made so popular on 1991’s Loveless. The second song, “Only Tomorrow,” is a nearly perfect indie ballad of fuzzy, distorted guitars, hushed vocals, and poetic lyrics:
Into the night we all come back to.
into the heart it’s getting hard to.
Only tomorrow the love comes easy.
watching that blue, it’s beyond you.
whats in your mind, a love foreseen.
Holding the crown, it is lonely heart.
I don’t know what the fuck that means, but it is beautiful as fuck. I seriously had to pull out my TPCASTT foldable from 10th grade so that I could attempt an analysis of the lyrics on this album. The good news though, is that
understanding hearing the lyrics are not essential for enjoying this album. They are simply another layer of the musical onion…another instrument to be enjoyed. Simply another brick in the aforementioned wall of sound that Shields and company so painstakingly built over the past 20 years. To put it simply, the lyrics are as important as you want them to be. This album stands perfectly as a purely instrumental record wherein the vocals fold into the energy of the rest of the sound wall, or they could be pushed to the forefront—painstakingly scrutinized until every sentence’s truth is revealed to the listener. This album is simultaneously easy listening, and Advanced Music Theory dissertation material. Art. ART.
The next few songs eschew the fuzzy, distorted guitars for a more synthy, keyboard driven sound. The songs are just as complex, and layered, but less rough around the edges. The whispered vocals and the soft piano notes give “If I am,” an ethereal, airy quality that is difficult to pin down. The more you listen to this song, the more you wish your workplace did not randomly drug test, because you know if given the right substance to abuse in conjunction with this song, you’d be riding purple zebras through space in no time.
The next song, “New You,” is the most lyrically sparse song on the record besides the two instrumental tracks, yet manages to say the most through the whirring, subtle guitar; and other wordily “do do do do do’s,” and layered “Ahhhhhhs.” While discussing this particular song would be an excellent time to reveal the emotion this record elicited in me: curiosity.
Begin aside: This was the first song I heard off of this album on youtube. I admittedly did not know too much about this band, with the exception of some amazing things about their first album, so I began to search high and low for MBV. When it was nowhere to be found, I took to youtube where the whole album is available to stream, albeit in a much lesser quality than you are going to get with your 16 dollar purchase. I listened to “New You,” for exactly 1:27 before I closed the youtube window, went to the MBV website, and ordered the album on vinyl. This did not happen because it was the most hauntingly beautiful popular music song I have ever heard. This happened because I was utterly befuddled. I was confused. I was curious. I didn’t know what to think about this album or this band, but I knew I wanted to figure it out, and I did not want to do it though youtube. This album is the Portal of music: you’re not entirely sure why you’re listening, or even if you like it, but you know you want to figure it out and with it, some small bit of what it means to be human.
I listened to the somewhat more accessible Loveless on repeat for the week I waited for my album to come in. When it finally arrived I found myself listening to this album like I played Portal. I would mentally prepare myself before each listen. I was listening to it at work, at lunch, while I showered. Solving this musical puzzle was slowly taking over my life, I would not rest until I had figured out what Shields and Co. were trying to tell me. Again, I wasn’t listening to it over and over again because I loved it so much, I was listening to it over and over again because I could not figure out if I loved it or hated it.
A month and a half later, I still have not figured the record out, but I certainly do not hate it. If anything I fear and respect it. Kind of like Rawls’s Theory of Justice. Agree with it or not, you cannot argue its value and the fact that it’s going to be a guiding force in music for years to come. End aside.
The last third of this album is where things get a bit shaky. The final act of this album forgoes the keyboards in favor of washed out percussion and a synth(?) sounding guitar. This band certainly pushes the instrument to its limits. They honestly create sounds with the guitar that I have never heard before. “In Another Way” is an extremely strong track that utilizes the aforementioned instruments to craft another almost perfect song.
“Nothing is;” however, is a monotonous ear infection of a track. Truly, I hate this fucking song. It grinds on my nerves and I feel like it has imbedded itself in my brain and is making hellish offspring with all of my bad memories. This song plays like Metropolis Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. I don’t care what anyone says, the song fucking blows and I hate it.
Fortunately, the album’s last song gets back to the basics and ends the album on a good note. “Wonder 2,” takes all the best parts of the last third of the album and combines them into one glorious, symphonic wall of sound that is layer upon layer of awesome, with textures and subtleties in the percussion where even the most pretentious of audiofiles will manage to find something new in the beats every time they listen.
This has been the most difficult review I have ever written. Is this the album of the year for 2013? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for out of your music. FIDLAR’s album was infinitely more fun and listenable. The National’s most recent joint had vastly more accessible lyrics. And Vampire Weekend’s album definitely showed the most growth any band has shown this year. But M B V has done something different here. Something more. It may or may not be album of the year, but when 2020 roles around and we take a look at the albums that have helped shape the decade in terms of musical innovation, I have a feeling we will all be seeing this album on top ten lists across the country. This band is near and dear to so many people’s hearts so it was of paramount importance to the Perspicacious Pedagogues here at the Moist Graffiti that this review was done thoroughly. Please, do not hesitate to let us know what you think of this album in the comments section. The master debaters of the Most Graffiti are always up for some good conversation regarding the state of art in our world.
Moist Graffiti Rating
Amazing production, wall of sound so high it could be used to keep out nomadic cannibals after nuclear war: 85.000
After a twenty year wait, it didn’t suck: +2
Lots of buying options: +2
Not on Spotify: -2
One song so annoying and shitty I wished for death -5
MG Rating: 81.99
Tune in next month around this time for the play by play of my and the doctor’s transcendent journey in an Aeroplane Over the Sea. It will be a magical adventure full of angst, PBR, and saws. Lots and lots of musical saws. Pray to the rock and roll gods that the good doctor returns with all eight limbs intact.
One Plus Seventy-One True Loves,
*I am not such a neophyte though, that I cannot tell that the difference in quality between a pair of Beats and, say a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M50’s.